“Service is powerful” – PM Andrew Holness
(excerpt from Jamaica Observer column published 4 July 2016)
|Champion GraceKennedy-Heather Little-White Household Workers Michael Lawson and Millicent Clunis with GraceKennedy CEO Senator Don Wehby and Phime Minister Andrew Holness|
With fellow judges, we interviewed some of Jamaica’s finest citizens. They were intelligent, sincere, and dignified. They were the shortlisted household workers from the 106 nominated by their employers for the GraceKennedy Championships, now in its third year. On Thursday the top nominees from the women’s as well as the new men’s category were announced, and from them emerged Champions Millicent Clunis and Michael Lawson and runners-up Elizabeth Watson Warren and Earnestar Smith.
Meet Millicent Clunis, who tackles her job in an organised, energetic manner. She is a list-maker and thorough, and she and her husband are dedicated to outreach activities. Ms Clunis also serves on the executive of the Jamaica Household Workers Union (JHWU). Michael Lawson started out as a watchman and when his employer lost her household worker, he offered to take on that role as well. When his employer returned from work to find her house spotless, Michael was allowed to work both inside and outside the house. Michael Lawson explained that his mother became disabled soon after he was born and so his grandmother taught him how to take care of himself and his mother.
“I would take my mother’s clothes down to the river and wash them,” said Michael, who has no issues with people calling him “helper guy Mikey”.
As the finalists relate their duties in the various households, we realise that they are playing several roles: nurse, security detail, chef, tutor. Thankfully, they are also very mindful of retirement planning, and have been ensuring that their NIS payments are up to date, and have bank accounts.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness who was guest speaker at the event was delighted to meet the dynamic Shirley Pryce, founder of the Jamaica Household Workers Union which last week celebrated their 25th Anniversary. He described this as “another milestone in my journey”, as Shirley explained to him that Convention 189 of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), which protects the rights of domestic workers was still awaiting ratification in Jamaica, while she had successfully participated in lobbying for its adoption in 183 other countries.
Prime Minister Holness and said he would be contacting Labour and Social Security Minister Shahine Robinson so the adoption of the Convention can be expedited. The Prime Minister lauded the outstanding household workers, noting that they were participants in the biggest part of Jamaica’s GDP: service.
“Service is powerful,” noted the PM. “We should never confuse service with servitude.”
GraceKennedy CEO Don Wehby spoke of the household worker who had a hand in raising him, and was now living in New York. He said when he was a student, she would always enclose money in her letters to him, and when he visited her in New York, she expressed motherly pride that he was now a Senator. He noted that Jamaica’s household workers have played an invaluable role in supporting families, even while raising their own.
Last year’s winner Rosetta Steer said she used her generous cash prize to study practical nursing. She introduced her grand-daughter Jewel to us, and said they studied together. “I believe in commitment, honesty and integrity,” she said, and advised, “Get your employers to trust you.”