Sending home household workers in the time of COVID-19Thursday, June 17, 2021
Yesterday, three major anniversaries coincided that could easily have escaped the radar of public attention because they do not meet the standard of being social media sexy and the people involved are rarely more than a footnote in the national story.
These events to which we refer relate to household workers — or essential service providers, in the language of the International Labour Organization (ILO) — who have lost their jobs in greater numbers or saw their hours of work reduced to a greater extent than other parts of the workforce, thanks to COVID-19.
Against the backdrop of the emaciation of the sector, the ILO marked International Household Workers Day and a decade since the adoption of the landmark 2011 Domestic Workers Convention (No 189), which only 32 of 187 countries have so far ratified.
The third event commemorated yesterday is the 30th year of the Jamaica Household Workers Association (JHWU), which set itself the lofty goal of re-imagining the role of household workers, building their self-esteem, and empowering them through training and education.
Jamaica's 6,900 household workers — helpers, housekeepers, gardeners, cooks, and nannies — are among the 25 to 50 per cent in Latin American and Caribbean countries who lost jobs in the second quarter of 2020, compared with pre-novel coronavirus pandemic levels.
“Their status inside the country can be called into question if they lose their jobs, [and] many domestic workers live in with their employers, so they could lose their lodgings if they lose their jobs as well,” said the ILO.
“So, behind the aggregated numbers, there is a sort of deeper human impact which accentuates even more the suffering involved in the latent economic impact of the COVID pandemic,” ILO added.
According to UN agency, there are at least 75.6 million domestic workers aged 15 and over, amounting to around one in 25 people employed worldwide. Just over three-quarters are women.
Last year April, the Jamaica Observer's Senior Associate Editor Mr Pete Sankey exposed the dire situation of the local household workers who were being sent home by the hundreds, most without pay, as employers moved to protect themselves from the rapidly spreading novel coronavirus.
At the time, the JHWU launched a fund to raise money to assist the most desperate workers who found themselves without a job. Response to the fund was paltry, forcing them to drop the initial target from US$10,000 to $5,000, in the end pulling in $1,580 from 26 contributors.
We were pleased to be informed yesterday by JHWU President Mrs Shirley Pryce that, following the exposure of their situation, while “it is still a struggle, we have come a far way, with the assistance we have received by some generous people and organisations”.
Importantly, the Ministry of Gender Affairs has provided a grant out of which household workers can receive a stipend and keep the JHWU office opened. Donors also included GraceKennedy; the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica; Food for the Poor; Courts Jamaica; Woman Inc; Jamaica Flour Mills; and Mr Wayne Chen, among others.
Happily, by year end the union expects to open the much-longed for JHWU Training Institute that, hopefully, will raise the profile of household workers and spur their development towards a better future.
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