Sat | Sep 23, 2017

Domestic workers' rights champ wants CARICOM to do more

Published:Thursday | July 6, 2017 | 7:00 AM
Shirley Pryce

Jamaican Shirley Pryce last night accepted CARICOM's top award for women and wasted little time in urging member states to follow Jamaica and Guyana to ratify an international convention on the protection of rights for domestic workers.

In 2011, the International Labour Organization (ILO) adopted Convention 189 which established the framework for the protection of the rights of millions of workers, mostly women.

"I am imploring all governments here today to follow in the footsteps of Jamaica and my Prime Minister Andrew Holness and the initiative of Guyana - those being the only two CARICOM countries to have ratified Convention 189 so far," she said at the opening ceremony for the 38th regular meeting of heads of government at the Grenada Trade Centre in St George's, Grenada.

"I asked my prime minister, and within three months he ratified it," she told the leaders after noting her 'embarrassment' when asked how many CARICOM states have taken the step.

Grenada's Prime Minister, Dr Keith Mitchell, who spoke after, said: "I can assure you Grenada will act."

Pryce is now the 12th awardee - and third Jamaican winner - since the triennial award was established in 1983 "to recognise and honour such women of distinction in the Caribbean".

"This award is very much appreciated, but perhaps the greatest award I have ever been given is the simple opportunity to advocate for the thousands of voiceless women across the world fighting for their rights, for recognition, respect and overall decent work," she said in her acceptance speech.

... 'I'm not afraid to speak'

Shirley Pryce is a key founder of domestic workers' unions in Jamaica, the Caribbean and globally, platforms she used to galvanise support for the adoption of the ILO convention.

A week ago, she told The Gleaner how she became 'militant' in Geneva to win 'respect' for domestic workers. "I am not afraid to speak. I remember when I was in Geneva in 2011; I was dubbed the no-nonsense, hard-talking Jamaican activist, because I wasn't afraid to speak. When I went to Geneva, we blocked the roads there. We were not afraid."

Meanwhile, Pryce noted that her 'fight' continues, as based on ILO data, there are more than 100 million domestic workers in the world who do not get benefits that other workers get, such as maternity leave, sick leave, health insurance, and leave with pay.

"Although, in some areas, there have been improvements, the one thing that remains the same is that domestic work is not recognised as real work. Even though some countries have taken the important step to introduce legislation, a lot more is needed in enforcement," she added.

"Sweeping changes are a must. It cannot be the same old, same old. Time come," she told The Gleaner yesterday hours ahead of receiving her award.

jovan.johnson@gleanerjm.com