Columns

Household workers 'have had enough hurt'

Jean LOWRIE-CHIN

Monday, March 31, 2014    

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I remember one of my UWI classmates deciding to take a household worker job for a summer, just to see what the experience would be like. "Never again!" she declared when her curious classmates questioned her about her stint. My friend had

a choice, but thousands of others don't. This is why it is important that we heed the call of Shirley Pryce, executive director of the Jamaica Household Workers Union (JHWU) for the Government to ratify the International Labour Organisation

(ILO) Convention 189, 'Advancing Decent Work for Domestic Workers'.

An excellent media campaign to promote the call was developed by Keishagay Jackson of WMW Jamaica (formerly Women's Media Watch), with the help of Judith Wedderburn of Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) in Jamaica and Dr Leith Dunn of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies at UWI, Mona. It was launched at an event hosted by the Ministry of Labour and Social Security earlier this month.

Shirley Pryce has been a stalwart for Jamaica's household workers, developing her association into a union which has increased its membership from 1,200 to 3,600 over the past year.

"We are now registered as a trade union," she noted. "We moved from five chapters to 11 chapters islandwide. We have been doing capacity-building and institutional strengthening... the domestic worker is finally coming out of the shadows. We are now a force to be reckoned with worldwide. It is, therefore, a great opportunity to say to the Government of Jamaica to ratify the ILO Convention."

She continued: "While many domestic workers work in adequate surroundings and are paid in line with the Government's directives on the minimum wage, far too many do not experience the level of decency and respect that should be extended to every human being. Protection for domestic workers is long overdue. People turn a blind eye to the domestic worker issue. We have had enough hurt and it is time for us to be heard."

Professional folks sometimes get so caught up in the daily rush, taking children to school, getting to the office, and working late that we sometimes do not even properly see the individuals who help us to stay sane by being a steady and trusted presence in our homes. Kudos to Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller for acknowledging the support of her housekeeper in her

victory speech after the last general election.

It is time that we all examine our attitude towards our household workers -- we carry a lot of baggage, sometimes totally unaware of the level of disrespect we display. I remember a Sunday School teacher relating to me that she asked her students if God loved them more than He loved their household worker -- sadly the answer was a resounding 'Yes'. We need to be careful that we do not saddle our children with such ignorant generational baggage. How can we be coaching them to sing our national anthem and not be impressing on them the real meaning of the words, "Teach us true respect for all"?

We should applaud the efforts of Chief Technical Officer Errol Miller at the Ministry of Labour for his efforts to have the convention ratified. In a JIS report, Dr Leith Dunn said the baseline study found that most of the laws needed are in place, but some should be amended to ensure consistency.

Dr Dunn also pointed out that one of the main findings is that there is no system of registration for household workers in Jamaica, noting that the Economic and Social Survey of Jamaica estimates that there are between 58,000 to 100,000 such workers. Therefore, the JHWU could become one of Jamaica's most powerful unions. Shirley Pryce has held many workshops over the years, training household workers to be efficient and ethical. In turn, she would like to see employers recording terms of engagement for household workers -- the ministry could assist with online forms so that busy employers could ensure that NIS and NHT registration is done.

Congratulations to Shirley Pryce for her valiant efforts on behalf of Jamaica's household workers, which was recognised last month when she was elected as the only Caribbean representative on the board of directors of the worldwide Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID). We should know that many leading Jamaicans were nurtured by mothers who laboured in other people's homes to keep their children fed and in school -- much respect is due.

Kingston's 'Garden of Eden'

Guests at last Tuesday's launch of the renovated Eden Gardens were amazed at the upgrading of the Lady Musgrave Road property. Owner, the visionary scientist and entrepreneur Professor Henry Lowe, has virtually conjured up an energy-efficient location with three restaurants, conference and entertainment facilities, 20 attractive suites and a world-class spa. His US$5.5-m investment has made it a great tourist attraction, yet welcoming enough for the ordinary Jamaican.

Guest speaker Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller said that the upgraded Eden Gardens signalled that it was "shining time again" and that it was "a triumph of Jamaican entrepreneurship and resourcefulness". Commenting on the wellness facilities, she said that medical tourism is estimated to be a US$40-billion industry, and that Jamaica's medical personnel had given us a reputation that should win us a share in this growing market.

Our energetic PM is a fine 'wellness ambassador' and we congratulate her and husband Errol Miller on their 16th wedding anniversary.

Respect to Prof Errol Morrison

We caught up with Prof Errol Morrison at the Eden Gardens launch and shared the words of support I have been hearing from CAST and UTech graduates (including my husband) who are proud of the phenomenal transformation he has led as president of UTech. We are glad that the UTech Council has agreed that the brilliant professor should complete his term of office. It should be clear that Prof Morrison is a highly sought- after, globally acknowledged expert on diabetes, and an academic of high repute. Let us be careful that we do not disrespect those exceptional Jamaicans who have myriad options, yet choose to make sacrifices to better their country.

Beautiful 'Bellevue' and 'Mount Plenty'

A group of us toured the Bellevue and Mount Plenty estates in St Ann recently, where we learned their rich history from our gracious hosts Valerie Facey and Laura Facey-Cooper. The properties were purchased in a derelict state in 1980 by the late Maurice Facey, that Jamaican icon of national development. The family set about restoring the Bellevue and Mount Plenty Great Houses in what is described as "the true, traditional Jamaica-Georgian vernacular architectural style". This translates into exquisite yet unpretentious buildings set against Jamaica's matchless landscape.

We need to understand that those well-tended grounds, Laura Facey-Cooper's dramatic works of art and her extensive organic farms require committed investors and extraordinary diligence. Thus, employment is created and our historic treasures protected. In 2000, both 'Bellevue' and 'Mount Plenty' were declared National Monuments by the Jamaica National Heritage Trust.

lowriechin@aim.com

www.lowrie-chin. blogspot.com

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