Tue | Jul 17, 2018

Letter of the Day | Stricter laws to protect domestic workers urgently needed

Published:Thursday | October 13, 2016 | 12:00 AM


Finally, the Government does something for domestic workers. You would think the politicians would be more grateful to those people that keep their homes running and their children in order. I have no doubt that some of these helpers, gardeners and gate men who create a prosperous environment for our nation's leaders are paid minimum wage.

The International Labour Organisation Convention 189 which protects the rights of domestic workers was recently ratified by the Government of Jamaica. One hopes it will lead to the creation of laws and policies to regulate the treatment of domestic workers island-wide. Our labour laws are woefully inadequate when it comes to protecting the rights of those people that work in and around the home. Were it not for the Minimum Wage Act, there would be nothing to stop those homeowners who don't see domestic work as "real work" from paying domestic workers $2,000 per week.

Currently, there is no legislation which outlines the rights of domestic workers. There is no guaranteed lunch time - and I can just imagine the plight of those stationary gate men who have to sneak to get lunch and hope no one stops by. There is no legislated protection from sexual harassment leaving many helpers at the mercy of some abusive employers who often threaten to fire them if they speak up. There is no guarantee of health benefits, payment of National Housing Trust or National Insurance. In other words, domestic workers have no safety nets in the case of illness, and God forbid that they become ill for not all employers will accommodate sick leave. On the matter of leave, there are no guarantees of same for domestic workers. In short, domestic workers are treated as less than their employers who are for the most part guaranteed all these employment benefits and entitlements.

What is particularly unfortunate is that the persons who routinely mistreat and degrade domestic workers by failing to provide adequate, safe and healthy work conditions are those persons who have come from very little themselves. There is a chronic colonial psyche of the nouveau riche to treat persons they believe to be beneath them as horribly as they can to prove they have reached the upper classes. This sounds eerily familiar to those freed coloured slave owners who were merciless to their slaves.

There is a lot of work to be done to remind those who have recently entered the 1.5 million - 5 million tax bracket that when they ill-treat their domestic employees, they are only repeating the treatment their parents, grandparents and great grand-parents had to endure to get them a start in life. They insult the memory of their forbears by not recognising the need to treat all persons with dignity in light of their inherent humanity.

Glenroy Murray LLB (Hons)

Policy & Advocacy Manager, Equality for All Foundation Policy Officer, WE-Change