Baby Eden kidnapping – How to reduce the risk

Lessons to be learnt

It is a devastating experience for any parent to discover that your baby has been kidnapped and has disappeared with your domestic helper / nanny whom you have trusted and who has been working for the family for any number of years.

In the distressing case of baby Eden Laird in May, it is now common knowledge that the Nanny and the men who are allegedly involved in the May kidnapping were all from Zimbabwe.

It is unfortunate that this may result in the impression being formed among employers of domestic workers/nannies that employment of all “foreigners” is risky.  This is far from the truth, as there are tens of thousands of trustworthy Helpers legally employed in the country.

Poor reasons for employing non-South Africans

Let’s explore the attitudes of thousands upon thousands of people employing non-South African helpers.  These are some of the most common reasons given:

  • They are good workers and do not have to go home regularly so they can work longer hours and up to seven days a week without complaining
  • I do not have to register “foreigners” for UIF and I pay them what I want, AND / OR
  • I do not have to pay minimum wages because she is a “foreigner”.

All of these statements are fiction:  non-South African domestic workers who are legally in the country have the same rights as South African domestic workers.   Worse still, because these attitudes are exploitative, they can lead to disloyalty and, in the worst case, criminal activity by disgruntled workers.  (Note that we in no way assume that this was true in the case of baby Eden.)

Homes being targeted by criminals

It is however completely lacking in prudence for employers to ignore the fact that the current political and economic environment, both in South Africa and neighbouring countries, has given rise to increased crime.  Criminals are exploring any possible way to obtain money and our households are increasingly becoming targets for crime.  Unfortunately, our domestic helpers also fall prey to these criminals and syndicates.

We have experienced several cases where domestic helpers have been involved, either directly or indirectly, in passing information on to outsiders, being involved in theft, or being blackmailed by syndicates.  These syndicates are skilled at getting their hands on the legal passports and work permits of ‘foreigners’ and using them to their advantage, even supplying false work permits in exchange for information.

What steps can employers take to reduce risk when employing a domestic worker?

  • Do not employee anybody from the street
  • Be careful when you employ somebody else’s helper – they will give good references to avoid paying severance pay or dismiss a worker and run the risk of CCMA awards
  • Do not accept any references at face value
  • Do not accept any telephonic references as the truth
  • Treat your mail as confidential – do not let personal documents lie around especially not ID’s, bank statements, payslips, utility bills, etc
  • Use a credible recruitment and placement agency to assist
  • Proper ID verifications and criminal checks are essential and must be performed via an authorised verification agent
  • Your agency should perform professional and proper reference checks with all previous employers.

Remember that when reference is made to Domestic Worker it includes gardeners, domestic helpers, nannies, care givers and chauffeurs in private households.

DO THE RIGHT THING BECAUSE IT IS THE RIGHT THING TO DO – By Albert van der Merwe (HR and Labour Law expert)

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