Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Household workers ‘have had enough hurt’

by Jean Lowrie-Chin | Jamaica Observer column | 31 March 2014
I remember one of my UWI classmates deciding to take a household worker job for a summer, just to see what the experience would be like. “Never again!” she declared when her curious classmates questioned her about her stint. My friend had a choice but thousands of others don’t.   
Shirely Pryce - photo from Jamaica Gleaner
This is why it is important that we heed the call of Shirley Pryce, Executive Director of the Jamaica Household Workers Union for the Government to ratify the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 189, ‘Advancing Decent Work for Domestic Workers’.
An excellent media campaign to promote the call was developed by Keishagay Jackson of WMW Jamaica (formerly Women’s Media Watch), with the help of Judith Wedderburn of Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) in Jamaica and Dr Leith Dunn of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies at UWI, Mona. It was launched at an event hosted by the Ministry of Labour and Social Security earlier this month.
Shirley Pryce has been a stalwart for Jamaica’s household workers, developing her association into a union which has increased its membership from 1,200 to 3,600 over the past year.
"We are now registered as a trade union,” she noted. “We moved from five chapters to 11 chapters islandwide. We have been doing capacity building and institutional strengthening … the domestic worker is finally coming out of the shadows. We are now a force to be reckoned with worldwide. It is therefore, a great opportunity to say to the Government of Jamaica to ratify the ILO Convention.”
She continued: "While many domestic workers work in adequate surroundings and are paid in line with the Government's directives on the minimum wage, far too many do not experience the level of decency and respect that should be extended to every human being. Protection for domestic workers is long overdue. People turn a blind eye to the domestic worker issue. We have had enough hurt and it is time for us to be heard.”
PM Simpson Miller congratulates Shirley Pryce
Professional folks sometimes get so caught up in the daily rush, taking children to school, getting to the office, and working late, that we sometimes do not even properly see the individuals who help us to stay sane by being a steady and trusted presence in our homes. Kudos to Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller for acknowledging the support of her housekeeper in her victory speech after the last General Elections.
It is time that we all examine our attitude towards our household workers – we carry a lot of baggage, sometimes totally unaware of the level of disrespect we display. I remember a Sunday School teacher relating to me that she asked her students if God loved them more than He loved their household worker – sadly the answer was a resounding ‘Yes’. We need to be careful that we do not saddle our children with such ignorant generational baggage. What part of 'Teach us true respect for all' do we not understand?
Director of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) in Jamaica, Judith Wedderburn (right), distributes brochures on ‘Protecting the Rights of Household Workers’ to participants at a the UN Women/Ministry of Labour and Social Security ‘Advancing Decent Work for Household Workers’ C189 Media campaign launch on Tuesday at the Jamaica Employers’ Federation offices in Kingston. From left are: Women’s Media Watch Jamaica’s Keishagay Jackson; Chief Technical Officer in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security Errol Miller; Jamaica Household Workers Union representative, Nicola Lawson; executive director, Jamaica Employers’ Federation, Brenda Cuthbert; and senior lecturer, Institute for Gender and Development Studies at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Dr Leith Dunn. (PHOTO: JIS)
We should applaud the efforts of chief technical officer Errol Miller at the Ministry of Labour for his efforts to have the Convention ratified. In a JIS report, Dr Leith Dunn said the baseline study found that most of the laws needed are in place but some should be amended to ensure consistency.
Dr Dunn also pointed out that one of the main findings is that there is no system of registration for household workers in Jamaica, noting that the Economic and Social Survey of Jamaica estimates that there are between 58,000 to 100,000 such workers. Therefore the JHWU could become one of Jamaica’s most powerful unions. Shirley Pryce has held many workshops over the years, training household workers to be efficient and ethical. In turn, she would like to see employers recording terms of engagement for household workers – the Ministry could assist with online forms so that busy employers could ensure that NIS and NHT registration is done.  
Congratulations to Shirley Pryce for her valiant efforts on behalf of Jamaica’s household workers, which was recognized last month when she was elected as the only Caribbean representative on the Board of Directors of the worldwide Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID). We should know that many leading Jamaicans were nurtured by mothers who labored in other people’s homes to keep their children fed and in school – much respect is due.

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