Legislating worker justice : the formalisation of paid domestic work in Maputo, Mozambique.
Castel-Branco, Ruth Kelia.
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Paid domestic work is the most important occupation for urban Mozambican women after self-employment. Domestic workers perform the reproductive and productive functions necessary to keep households running and the economy growing. Despite the importance of this sector, it is characterised by low wages, long hours, rigorous schedules, and vulnerability to abuse. In 2008, Mozambique’s National Assembly passed Decree 40/2008, extending labour protections to domestic workers. There is significant debate however about whether labour protection can transform working conditions in such an intimate sector. Domestic work takes place in isolation, behind the closed doors and high walls of private homes; it consists of intimate tasks, adding a personalness to the employment relationship; and working conditions are negotiated one-on-one with employers. Drawing on historical research, primary observations and semi-structured interviews with key informants and domestic workers in Maputo’s central city, this study discusses the opportunities and limitations of legislating worker justice in an intimate profession. It explores how the institutional and regulatory framework both enables and prevents improvements in working conditions; how domestic workers leverage these institutions to advance their interests; and the informal strategies and tactics they use concurrently. The study suggests that Decree 40/2008 has had limited direct impact on working conditions. Its ambiguous language, poor dissemination, and weak regulatory structure, combined with the precarious nature of Maputo’s labour market and entrenched power relations between workers and employers, mean that domestic workers exhibit high levels of accommodation or patience, preferring to wait for conditions to improve or better options to surface, than to make outright demands from employers. However, this study also suggests Decree 40/2008 has galvanised domestic worker organising, creating a focus of mobilisation and advocacy with the potential to profoundly affect working conditions in this sector. In the context of a fractured labour movement however, domestic worker organising has become a battleground for autonomy, power, and resources. It is still too early to know whether domestic workers will ultimately benefit.