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Household workers incensed over Government's failure to ratify convention

Published:Sunday | January 10, 2016 | 12:00 AM

Household workers across the island are planning protest action to register their frustration over the Government's failure to ratify the Domestic Workers Convention, which Jamaica voted for in 2011, but has failed to adopt.

Shirley Pryce, president of the Jamaica Household Workers Union (JHWU), said domestic workers are getting very restive as they are currently not recognised as workers and are, therefore, not privy to benefits guaranteed to other employees, such as maternity leave and overtime pay.

"Ratifying the convention would mean that domestic workers would be classified as workers. Right now, we are not classified as workers," said Pryce.

"Domestic workers are tired and fed up," she said.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention No. 189 on Domestic Work was voted for during the 2011 ILO conference in Geneva, Switzerland, in an effort to guarantee fundamental labour rights to an estimated 53 million domestic workers worldwide.

better working conditions

Pryce, who was one of Jamaica's representatives at the conference, feels that ratifying the convention could mean better working conditions for Jamaican household workers who are sometimes made to work long hours without extra pay and are, at times, not adequately compensated for the work they do.

Last October, Senator Lambert Brown announced, during a sitting of the Upper House of Parliament, that Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller had given instructions for Jamaica to ratify Convention No. 189.

The prime minister also announced that the Government was taking the necessary steps to ratify the Convention during her keynote address at the GraceKennedy-Heather Little-White Household Worker of the Year awards ceremony in May last year.

"Although they are part of the backbone of our country, they are seldom, if ever, singled out for special recognition or assistance," Simpson Miller had noted.

Pryce estimates that there are currently more than 100,000 domestic workers in Jamaica. She said several of them have to tackle issues such as sexual harassment, but are afraid to talk because they fear losing their jobs.

"One lady was saying that when the employer's wife is travelling, (he) would come in to touch her on her butt while she worked in the kitchen and she had to get serious with him. So I told her she should tell the wife, too, but she doesn't want to lose her job," she said.

"We get several calls on issues like being overworked, long working hours, and non-payment of wages, but when you tell them to come in and provide their employer's name, they will not," she told The Sunday Gleaner.

Pryce, who is also the president of the Caribbean Domestic Workers' Network, said she would much rather have dialogue with the Government to see how they can quickly have the convention ratified, but noted that several of the domestic workers are calling for an islandwide protest instead.

She said the JHWU tries to mediate issues between the employees and household workers when they are brought to its attention. However, she said she believed the ratification of the convention would give the organisation more teeth.