My sister is one of the few women I know who actively looks out for the women and men who work for her domestically. She is always encouraging them to do better, to get out if they could or wanted to. We need more people like her and my aunt and uncle, who’ve built a house for the lady who’s worked for them for decades and consider her a member of the family. To this day, my mom still looks out for one of the helpers who took care of me and my brother when we were in primary school.
Do most of us think about what the life of those who survive by cleaning up our messes is like? Or do we just cuss about how much it costs to hire them and wonder if we could trust them in our houses?
“As it stands now, the only legal protection domestic employees enjoy comes through the Minimum Wages Act and the National Insurance Scheme, neither of which addresses retrenchment and severance benefits or conditions of work. Indeed, it is an open secret that many domestic employees risk losing their jobs if they even raise the issue of minimum wage or NIS.
For most, their conditions of work are completely dependent on the compassion of those who hire them.
Respect, stipulated hours of work, annual leave, sick days and severance and pension benefits are perks not rights.
An employee might be fired for being ill and without notice, work unconscionably long hours, and after a lifetime of service, be traded in for a newer model without even a gift much less a gratuity.
The majority are by far women and girls. Sometimes, all the girls in a family work as household help; sometimes, it is the family profession, one generation following another like a dynasty of the lower order, unable to acquire the means to break the cycle.
So debilitating is the culture that the idea that the household help might eventually enhance her skills and branch out and up is almost alien.”