Jamaica's household workers in the spotlight


Monday, October 09, 2017

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Jamaica's estimated 60,000 household workers now have the opportunity to join a union which promotes standards beneficial to both workers and employers. “The Jamaica Household Workers Union (JHWU) is now an official registered union with over 5,700 members in 13 branches,” said President Shirley Pryce at the recent Household Workers Championships. “We educate, organise, and negotiate collective agreements. We enhance workers' productivity and promote work harmony. We do mediation services and training and advocate for the rights of household workers.”

Pryce said the championships are also very special because they are named in honour of Heather Little-White. She noted that she had met her at Grace Kitchens, where she had been one of her first students. The inspiring late Dr Little-White was her mentor: “She encouraged me and pushed me to complete my bachelor's and master's degrees... I now have an advanced master's in labour and global workers' rights from Pennsylvania State University.”

Yes, indeed, Pryce, who started her career as a household worker, now has a master's degree, and was this year named Caricom Woman of the Year. As was done by her many mentors, so do we all owe it to our Jamaican family to be supporters of their dreams for a better life.

For the fourth year, the panel of judges for the Household Workers Championships, sponsored by GraceKennedy, had to blink away their tears as we interviewed the 10 finalists. The employers who nominated them declared them to be nurse, teacher, sister, brother, florist, chef, money manager. They were keepers of the keys. One employer migrated and arranged with the worker and her family to move in and assist an elderly relative. Another misplaced an envelope with thousands of dollars and was promptly called by her worker to return home to retrieve the funds.

This year's champions are Cherrilene Williams-Case and Anthony Houston. In their emotional responses, they spoke of the pride they have in their work. Sadly, too many Jamaicans do not acknowledge the important role that household workers play in our lives; it is this disrespect of our humble, hard-working folks from various walks of life that is manifested in social disorder.

Former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller was honoured at the event as “an icon of public service and political leadership”, and for her repeated “acknowledgement that the value of the household worker is inextricably linked to the work” one is able to do. Indeed, her household worker Miss Marva is now a household name.

“I am very proud of Ms Shirley Pryce who has been a champion and lobbyist for the rights of household workers all around the world,” noted GraceKennedy CEO Don Wehby. As a result, the International Labour Organization convention C189 that demands 'decent work' conditions for household workers was ratified by Prime Minister Holness last September and announced by him at the United Nations General Assembly. We look forward to the implementation of the articles as we believe that it is important that we support a life-work balance for Jamaica's household workers.”

Wehby shared that his boyhood caregiver, Miss Carmen, later migrated to New York to be with her children who had done well. “Every year for my birthday Miss Carmen would send me US$20 in a card,” he told us. He became misty as he added, “This was the first year I didn't get one, as she is no longer with us.”

Our leaders have set a good example. Labour Minister Shahine Robinson, who was guest speaker, noted that her family's lifelong household worker, Miss Edna's children were like sisters and brothers, a bond that remains strong to this day. Robinson said that household workers had made a significant contribution to the growth of Jamaica's economy.

Crime and our society

The local chapter of the International Women's Forum (IWF) dedicated our recent monthly meeting to a discussion on crime as we try to bring this monster, killing both our present and future, to heel in the words Therese Turner-Jones, Caribbean regional head of the International Development Bank (IDB). Turner-Jones and IWF Jamaica President Camille Facey invited to address us the IDB's Camila Mejia, the World Bank's Galina Sotoriva, and state minister in the Ministry of Security, Senator Pearnel Charles Jr.

Highlights of the IDB study 'Restoring Paradise in the Caribbean: Combatting Violence with Numbers' were presented by Mejia. It was sobering to learn that the Latin American and Caribbean region, which represented less than nine per cent of the world's population, committed 33 per cent of global homicides — Jamaica having the highest rate per capita.

It was noted that in Jamaica there is trend towards “the normalisation of violence”. Statistics show that one in three would approve or understand hitting a wife who is unfaithful, and 78 per cent of respondents say it is necessary to physically discipline a child with 88 per cent having suffered corporal punishment as a child. In all of these categories, Jamaica exceeds the Latin American and Caribbean average.

The IDB study noted that 25 per cent of Jamaican women have experienced physical violence by a male partner and less that 20 per cent of those abused had reported the matter to the police, while 31 per cent of women between the ages of 25 and 29 years had experienced intimate partner violence. The study revealed that most violent crimes in the Caribbean are perpetrated by someone known to the victim in their neighbourhood, and 73 per cent of victims knew the offender.

It concluded that “the most powerful deterrent is the certainty of being caught and convicted”. Over how many decades have we been asking that Jamaica's security and justice system be made more efficient? Turner-Jones shared a New York Times opinion piece entitled 'The Politics of Murder' by Harvard Senior Fellow Thomas P Abt. It was as if he were commenting on the Jamaican situation when he opined: “Partisans on all sides will seek to spin this situation to their advantage.”

We were impressed with the plans shared by Senator Charles regarding the rehabilitation of prisoners and reintegration into society. Jamaica Public Service Senior Vice-President Sheree Martin noted that her company was offering jobs to such individuals under its 'We Transform' programme. Crime reduction should be a priority on every front; the Government cannot do it alone.

Farewell, Ron Brown

Ron Brown, retired permanent secretary who served with distinction in the Ministry of Public Works and Ministry of Water & Transport, passed away recently. Ron was respected for applying his deep knowledge and experience as a civil engineer to the construction of some of Jamaica's infrastructural landmarks. A mass of resurrection will be held for him at St Jago de la Vega Cathedral in Spanish Town on Saturday, October 14, at 11:00 am. We extend love and sympathy to his wife, Valerie Juggan-Brown, and other family members.



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