Observer column published MON 9 October 2017
by Jean Lowrie-Chin
Jamaica’s estimated 60,000 household workers now have the opportunity to join a union which promotes standards beneficial to both workers and employers. “The Jamaica Household Workers Union (JHWU) is now an official registered Union with over 5,700 members in 13 branches,” said President Shirley Pryce at the recent Household Workers Championships. “We educate, organize, and negotiate collective agreements. We enhance workers’ productivity and promote work harmony. We do mediation services and training and advocate for the rights of household workers.”
President Pryce said the championships “are also very special because they are named in honour of Heather Little-White.” She noted that she had met her at Grace Kitchens, “where I was one of her first students.” The inspiring late Dr. Little-White was her mentor: “She encouraged me and pushed me to complete my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees .. I now have an advanced Masters in Labour and Global Workers’ Rights from Pennsylvania State University.”
Yes indeed Shirley Pryce who started her career as a household worker now has a Master’s degree and this year was named Caricom Woman of the Year. As was done by her many mentors, so do we all owe it to our Jamaican family to be supporters of their dreams for a better life.
For the fourth year, the panel of judges for the Household Workers Championships sponsored by GraceKennedy had to blink away their tears as we interviewed the ten finalists. The employers who nominated them declared them to be nurse, teacher, sister, brother, florist, chef, money manager. They were keepers of the keys: one employer migrated and arranged with the worker and her family to move in and assist an elderly relative. Another misplaced an envelope with thousands of dollars and was promptly called by her worker to return home to retrieve the funds.
This year’s champions are Cherrilene Williams-Case and Anthony Houston. In their emotional responses, they spoke of the pride they had in their work. Sadly, too many Jamaicans do not acknowledge the important role that household workers play in our lives; it is this disrespect of our humble, hardworking folks from various walks of life that is manifested in social disorder.
Honour for Former PM Portia Simpson-Miller
Former PM Portia Simpson Miller was honoured at the event as “an icon of public service and political leadership” and for her repeated “acknowledgement that the value of the household worker is inextricably linked to the work you have done.” She received a Special Award for Outstanding Service to the People of Jamaica in the Areas of Labour, Decent Work and Gender Affairs. In the citation, GraceKennedy recognized the former Prime Minister as “an icon of public service and political leadership in Jamaica,” who used her political and public administration platforms over more than forty years to “assist people to attain their dreams and actualize their potential.”
“I am very proud of Ms. Shirley Pryce who has been a champion and lobbyist for the rights of household workers all around the world,” noted GraceKennedy CEO Don Wehby. As a result, the ILO Convention C189 that demands ‘decent work’ conditions for household workers was ratified by PM Holness last September and announced by him at the United Nations General Assembly. We look forward to the implementation of the articles as we believe that it is important that we support a life-work balance for Jamaica’s household workers.
Our leaders have set a good example. Minister Shahine Robinson, who was guest speaker, noted that her family’s lifelong household worker Miss Edna’s children were like sisters and brothers, a bond that remains strong to this day. Minister Robinson said that household workers had made a significant contribution to the growth of Jamaica’s economy. She declared, “Jamaica simply could not survive without this important contribution to our households…We salute you for your tireless and often overlooked work.”
Don Wehby shared that his boyhood caregiver Miss Carmen later migrated to New York to be with her children who had done well. “Every year for my birthday Miss Carmen would send me US$20 in a card,” he told us. He became misty as he added, “This was the first year I didn’t get one, as she is no longer with us.”