Screen Shot 2014-06-16 at 5.58.30 PMEveryone has house-help here.

It doesn’t matter if you’re Senegalese, American, French or Lebanese, a city-dweller, suburbanite or a villager… you have someone (even if it’s a niece or a younger cousin) hired to help with the day-to-day of running the household. Now what this person actually does, the hours they work and how they are treated varies widely – very widely. I’ve known of workers who have been required to work long, long hours for little pay, but then have heard of one worker who drank Starbucks coffee every morning with her employer.

I decided to interview a couple house-helpers and get their perspective and tips. I wanted them to feel they could speak freely, so am not going to identify them. But I will tell you that cumulatively speaking, we’re looking at nearly 50 years of experience working for expats and Senegalese employers.

So here’s what they told me…

The going daily rate for house-helpers (and nannies and cooks) working for expats in Dakar is between 4000-5000cfa, but those with many years of experience and training can make up to 7500cfa. This is well above the minimum wage, which is 209cfa/hour.

A two-week trial period is normal and expected. After that period though, even if there’s not a contract or verbal agreement, the understanding is that you intend to keep the house-helper on long-term.

Transportation should be paid in addition to the daily wage, and this is usually around 500-1000cfa/day but depends on how far the worker’s commute is.

Providing breakfast is optional, but appreciated. This can include Nescafé or tea, sugar, milk and bread.

The best house-helpers are Diola from the Casamance. After that, Sereer.

When someone starts working for you, show them where they can store their personal items such as a purse, clothes, etc… Many house-helpers will leave work clothes at your house, so having a drawer or cubby somewhere is helpful.

If the house-helper works past 2pm, they should be provided with either lunch or money for lunch (500cfa).

If a house-helper is putting in a full day’s work, it’s expected that you will provide them with a place to shower and get cleaned up before going home. Providing soap is optional, but appreciated.

2014 Paid Holidays in Senegal
Working on one of these = double pay

January 1: New Year’s Day
March 14: Maouloud
April 4: Independence Day
April 21: Easter Monday
May 1: Labor Day
May 29: Ascension
June 9: Pentecost
July TBD: Korité
August 15: Assumption
October TBD: Tabaski
November TBD: Tamkharit
December 25: Christmas

In addition, the day of the Grand Magal de Touba (pilgrimage), the day after Tabaski and the day after Korité are considered paid holidays, unless they fall on a Saturday or Sunday.

If you ask your house-helper to go run an errand or buy something for you at the market outside of their regular hours, you should pay for the hours + transportation.

After working for you for one full year (full or part-time), house-helpers get one month of paid vacation (no transportation paid). This can be taken all at once or spread out, based on what works best for everyone. Alternatively, if both parties agree, the house-helper can continue working but will receive double pay for that month.

There are good house-helpers and bad house-helpers, good employers and bad employers. Just as much as an employer wants a good worker, workers want good employers.

Contracts and paying into social security often benefit the employer, not the worker. (This was interesting to me because I’d always heard the opposite!) Rather than a legal contract, some workers prefer a ‘certificat de travail’ that serves as proof of employment if they need to apply for a loan, etc.

If a certain person has been recommended to you as a house-helper but you don’t have their contact information, push-push-push until you get in touch with them directly. Because jobs are in short supply, mutual contacts may tell you that the person has moved, has work elsewhere or they don’t know how to get in touch with them, etc. But if you’re looking to hire, the mutual contact’s wife/sister/daughter is available…

Screen Shot 2014-06-15 at 5.34.06 PM

This next point is pretty relevant since June is mass-expat-exodus month. The normal expectation is that employers will give at least two weeks’ notice before letting a working go due to an upcoming move. During those two weeks, the house-helper should be given time to go to look for another job and go to interviews.

When the job ends, employers should write up a ‘certificat de travail‘ which states that this person work in such and such capacity for this duration.

If the employer has been pleased with the house-helper, they could also write a letter of recommendation that includes details of the job and its responsibilities,the worker’s best qualities, etc… These letters go a long way in helping to secure another job and are very, very appreciated!

If you write a recommendation letter in English, it’s appreciated if you can include a French translation as well.

Anything else you’d add from your experiences? By the way, I just had an interesting chat with my house-helper about her house-helper!