Why I support the demands of domestic workers!


I was born from a mother of multiple identities. The daughter of a farmer who had no land but grew her own food in the space she was allowed on the farm where I was later born, Kwantaba Ziyatsha (place of burning mountains), or Seven Fountains to some. It was only when my grandmother was forcefully removed from the farm where she worked, birthed some of her children and farmed that she could have her own piece of land to grow more food to feed the troop of us grandchildren and many more in our village eMgababa. She was forcefully moved because she was getting old, wasn’t as “efficient” as Baas Robert needed her to be. All her children had left the farm to work in the mines or other farms or the “kitchens” in the towns.

By the time we moved to eMgababa (a village near Peddie), my mother had long left school to go and work in the neighbouring Grahamstown, eRhini or Makhanda as is now known. I am told she was a promising bright student who could have been one of the country’s best netball players. But for a young black girl who didn’t finish school, domestic work became the most obvious avenue and soon enough, she was working in white people’s hotels and homes.

Back then, the story of the “domestic worker” in South Africa was more black and white than it is today. Black women in the towns cleaned white people’s houses, looked after their children, maintained their households, releasing the family to go to school and engage in “productive” economic activities. Black women have always been central to the formation of the white economy in this country. They continue to be in contemporary South Africa’s black middle-class economy. It is still black women (South African born and migrant) who are the majority domestic workers today, an estimated one million of them working in the white suburbs and in the homes of today’s bourgeoning black middle classes.

My mother started domestic work at age 14, was a live-in domestic, which is code for a 24-hour worker available at the madam or master’s ring of the bell. Later we got to witness how she lived alongside her bosses. The family which she served the longest loved her alright. She was the real mother of the household, the one the children cried to when they fell or were hungry. In all the ways she was positioned as the stereotype: walked the dogs in her pink overalls, sometimes fetched the children from school in her pink overalls. She preferred blue but if she didn’t go with the Madam to choose the colour she wanted she got pink. Had to wear her overalls when serving family friends by the pool. Stayed in the garage even though there were enough bedrooms inside the house she cleaned and made a home for the family everyday.

I did not want to know too much about what else happened to her there. Her mood told it all when she came home. I got to experience and observe some of her daily life myself on the days I went to help her. Also, when I worked on my own for her “master” of 27 years during school holidays or weekends to make a little money, and when my mother was no longer well enough to work so I had to replace her when I could.

But my mother was not the stereotype. She was “cheeky”. Baas tolerated her as long as the Madam was alive. When Madam died suddenly the husband persecuted her out of a job of 27 years and robbed her of her entitlements. Madam was a truly nice woman who loved my mother in her own way. She helped save me from dying of a botched appendicectomy in the hands of an apartheid Surgeon who insisted I had an STD at 14 and would not let anyone else disagree with his untested diagnosis. Afterall, Master was the lawyer and she had no real rights under the law, or the ability to fight back against his cunning.

In my family, we used to joke that my mother was like Mandela, she did a 27-year sentence at her last employer. Difference was she got out of it with little if anything while Mandela got a presidency and a saintly status. She didn’t think the joke was funny, but it was too good a joke to not taunt her with. Afterall, she was the queen of mock.  She was so good at mocking others she could reduce a big man to a flimsy little straw with one joke, she wasn’t afraid of anyone. I think this was part of the reason the very tall Baas couldn’t tolerate her in the end, cheeky, old domestics aren’t attractive, nor pleasure to have around.

My mother’s experience, and by extension ours, was as complex, unique as it was typical. When I started to work for Baas, he was very quick to comment how I reminded him of my mother when she was young. How she “followed instructions”. How she would moan but wouldn’t talk as loudly back. How she cleaned “more thoroughly”, didn’t demand extra pay and was just how they all should be, visible only through the work of their hands. Bust she changed, and he “didn’t know what got into her”.

After my mother recognised certain signs in me she demanded I stop going there. Luckily, I got another weekend and holiday job somewhere else where it was just me and the Madam, and my mother was always with me. She was always clear, no daughter of hers was going to become a fulltime domestic worker. She insisted she would sell anything of hers for me to complete my studies. But I knew she had already sold everything, including her health. So, when she got sick, I was happy for her to stop working and we had to find other ways to make do. By then, she had met a wonderful spirit who became many things to us. This one, we didn’t call her Madam. She was daughter and sister and companion to my mother. She shared with us everything she could. One cannot pretend race, class and history away, but she presented an alternative way. When she moved away my mother could not do the work anymore. She was 14 years old when she began this work. It had marked her life, our perceptions of interpersonal relationships and familial intimacies. She was done, but reckoning with its impacts on her emotional and physical wellbeing was only beginning.

October is the month my mother died 6 years ago. She was 54. A feisty, towering tree of our family. With her around we had a stem on which to anchor ourselves. It is a very heavy month for us her children and her siblings. Last month we performed the big ritual of returning her spirit back home, Simbuyisa. Among other things, my mother was a serious Healer. In my tradition people get called to be healers. I do not know how our ancestors decide who to call. Perhaps it’s a combination of one’s life trials and tribulations and a resilience or purity of spirit despite it all might have something to do with it. So, by tradition we perform these rituals, for the healing of her spirit as well as of those of the living. But it is Pinky, Myrtle who raised my mother from the grave for me, and began the healing of my spirit.

A few months ago, I got introduced to Pinky Mashiane, a domestic worker warrior who is leading the charge for domestic workers to receive the same protections under the law. She fights alongside Myrtle Witbooi, the stalwart of the domestic workers movement in SA and the world over. Myrtle has been everywhere carrying the placard for domestic workers rights. She has led SADSAWU, that neglected “child” of our labour movement for decades, making visible the invisible hands who clean up the proverbial mess in so many of our homes and perform productive labour without which our nation, our economy, would come to a standstill.

This month, Pinky and her sisters, my mother’s comrades and sisters in arms, will hopefully achieve a significant victory at the Constitutional Court. I had not known Pinky much before this. I still do not quite know much of her story. But I know my mother’s story and through it I know Pinky. The story of millions of women in SA and the world over who are domestic workers.

I am blessed with these mothers, these comrades, these warriors who are returning my mother to me, and justice for her beyond the grave. I am inspired by the feminists I organize with who did not hesitate to respond when these workers called. For all these reasons, I support every single demand the Domestic workers are making: Same protection under the law. Decent wages, decent working conditions, compensation for injuries and diseases contracted at work!

And no, domestic workers are not responsible for the crimes that happen in our homes. Yes, when we feel vindicated at an occasional video that goes viral of a supposed domestic worker abusing a child we should be shocked as well as look in the mirror. What do we do every day, in the most intimate spaces where we have total control over them, to recognise and affirm their humanity.

No, its not enough to talk nice about how wonderful Mavis and Violet and Zoliswa are and then send them away with a couple of thousands when they are too old or sickly for us to extract anymore of their labour. We must recognize, respect and remunerate them as legitimate workers. Treat them as human beings with dignity. We have the power of control over their lives while they are in our homes, our offices and workplaces. Our own humanity is measured in the way we treat others in general, particularly those who give to us as much as domestic workers do. Hopefully the courts will speak for them this week.

Hopefully the State will finally be forced to recognize all their rights as workers. We owe them nothing less!

That’s why I support the Domestic Worker’s Rising campaign. You should too.

The campaign was launched on October 15. On the same day a group of domestic workers and allied organisations gathered outside the North Gauteng High Court for the Sylvia Mahlangu hearing. In this case, Maria Mahlangu drowned in March 2012 after falling off a ladder and plunging into her employer’s open swimming pool while cleaning windows.

Her unemployed daughter Sylvia and grandchild, who were dependent on her income, were unable to claim for compensation through available legislation, even though Mahlangu had worked for the same family for 22 years. To get more details about this case and the Domestic Worker’s Rising Campaign follow it on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram on @OxfamSA and visit the website to see the different ways you can be involved.

(For more information, check out https://www.pressreader.com/south-africa/citypress/20181014/282291026197237 and http://www.seri-sa.org/images/SERI_Domestic_Workers_Rights_Guide_Draft_2_reprint.pdf )

(This originally appeared, in edited form, in the City Press)

Where is the global outrage at Saudi Arabia’s execution of Tuti Tursilawati?

On Monday, October 29, Saudi Arabia executed, more like assassinated, Tuti Tursilawati, a 32—year-old domestic worker, mother of one, from Indonesia. According to Tuti Tursilawati’s testimony, she went to Saudi Arabia to work in a private home. She was sexually abused for months. Finally, in 2010, after nine months of abuse and in self-defense, Tuti Tursilawati killed her abuser when he tried, once more, to rape her. She ran away, was caught and gang raped, and then turned over to police. In 2011, Tuti Tursilawati was found guilty of murder. For seven years, she sat on death row. On October 19, Tuti Tursilawati was allowed to talk to her mother, via video. At that time, she said she was healthy and not worried about her execution. Less than two weeks later, without any notice to the Indonesian government or Tuti Tursilawati’s family or anyone else, Tuti Tursilawati was executed. Who cares?

The Indonesian government has responded with “deep concerns” and outrage. Indonesian activist ngo’s, particularly Migrant Care, have condemned the execution and called on the Indonesian government to take appropriate actions. And that’s pretty much the universe of concern and care for Tuti Tursilawati. Why is that? Where is the global outrage? Tuti Tursilawati’s story is a common story, for Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and the world. According to Migrant’s Care co-founder Anis Hidayah, 1.5 million Indonesians work in Saudi Arabia. Tuti Tursilawati’s story is typical: sexual abuse, long hours, inadequate and improper housing, physical and psychological torment, and the list goes on. Tuti Tursilawati’s story is also typical of the world at large as well. According to the International Labor Organization’s most recent account, in 2015, there were 11.5 million migrant domestic workers globally. Of 67.1 million domestic workers, globally, 17.2 per cent were migrant domestic workers. It gets worse: “Domestic work is a much higher source of employment for migrants than it is for non-migrant workers. When analyzed as a share of migrant workers, migrant domestic workers (MDWs) represent 7.7 per cent of a global estimate of 150.3 million migrant workers. Disaggregated by sex, this share is even higher, representing 12.7 per cent, or 8.45 million, of the 66.6 million female migrant workers worldwide.” Who cares? Why is the employer’s torture and the State’s murder of Tuti Tursilawati only of concern to Indonesians? Where is the global outrage?

On Wednesday, October 31, Mona Eltahawy wrote, “Who speaks out for a poor woman far away from home in one of the most patriarchal countries in the world who defends herself against a sexually abusive employer, is sentenced to death, spends 7 yrs on death row and is then beheaded? Where is the global outrage for Tuti Tursilawati?”

Where was the outrage when 25-year-old Tuti Tursilawati was unfairly sentenced to death for having protected herself? Where was the outrage as Tuti Tursilawati sat for seven years on death row? Where is the global outrage now? Nowhere to be seen. While there is much to be said of the Kafala system and the brutal conditions of labor in Saudi Arabia, and across the Middle East, for migrant domestic workers, we must also address our own brutal complicity through silence. Tuti Tursilawati’s execution, and the Indonesian outraged response, was reported, however briefly, in the major news outlets, often on the front page. Who cared? No one. Where is the global outrage? As of yet, nowhere to be seen. Why does the world not care about the young women of color who travel long distance and leave families and communities behind, precisely to keep the world, our world, functioning? Who cares about Tuti Tursilawati? Where is the global outrage? Tuti Tursilawati haunts the world. Who cares?

Tuti Tursilawati

 

(Photo Credit 1: Kompas) (Photo Credit 2: Jakarta Post)

Why did Adelina Lisao have to be tortured to death before anyone sought justice?

Indonesian Consulate officials wait to claim Adelina Lisao’s body

On Saturday, February 10, 2018, 26-year-old Adelina Lisao was “rescued” from her employers’ house. She was taken to hospital, where she died on Sunday. Adelina Lisao was one of hundreds of thousands of domestic workers in Malaysia. Most of those workers are Indonesian and Filipino. For weeks, Adelina Lisao was tortured, often in plain sight and earshot of neighbors. The sort of violence visited upon Adelina Lisao is not an unusual occurrence for Indonesia and Filipina domestic workers in Malaysia, as has been documented for decades. Adelina Lisao died on Sunday. On Monday, the Indonesian government demanded “justice for Adelina.” On Tuesday, the press announced, in headlines, “Death of maid treated ‘like a dog’ casts spotlight on migrant abuse in Malaysia”. Just because there’s a glimmer in the dark doesn’t mean that a light is shining. If history is any guide, by Friday, Adelina Lisao’s named will be filed away and forgotten, and the mass abuse will continue.

In 1997, Christine B.N. Chin, a scholar of transnational migrant women’s labor, studied “the distinct ways in which public walls of silence continue to surround the absence of labor rights and benefits for foreign female domestic workers in the receiving country of Malaysia.” Chin noted that, despite the best efforts of Malaysian ngo’s, “efforts to break down public walls of silence surrounding the absence of labor rights and benefits for foreign female domestic workers have met with little success.” Twenty years ago, the situation of Indonesian domestic workers in Malaysia was recognized as an already longstanding issue. Since then, the public walls of silence have only grown thicker and higher. There is no spotlight nor loudspeaker breaking through that wall, not as yet.

In 2004, Human Rights Watch published a report on abuses against women domestic workers in Malaysia, which began: “In May 2004, graphic photographs of the bruised and burned body of Nirmala Bonat, a young Indonesian domestic worker in Malaysia, were splashed across newspapers in Southeast Asia. In a case that drew international attention and outrage as well as a prompt response by both the Malaysian and Indonesian governments, Bonat accused her employer of brutally beating and abusing her.” Who remembers Nirmala Bonat? What is the life span of “international attention”? Where is the outrage today?

According to the ILO, in 2016, Malaysia employed 300,000 to 400,000 domestic workers, almost exclusively from Indonesia, Cambodia and the Philippines. In 2010, approximately 230,000 Indonesian women worked, legally, as domestic workers in Malaysia. In 2015, Malaysia and Indonesia met to discuss “ways to improve protection of Indonesian domestic migrant workers in Malaysia.” Where was that “protection” while Adelina Lisao was being abused, tortured, demeaned, starved, beaten, and all in plain sight?

Indonesia should have demanded justice for Adelina Lisao long before she arrived in Malaysia. Malaysia should have demanded justice for Adelina Lisao as well. Adelina Lisao, this week’s moment of “international attention and outrage”, cannot be merely another empty sign. She is the brick and mortar of success in the now-decades-old new economy. A specter haunts the world … and her name is Adelina Lisao.

 

(Photo Credit: Sayuti Zainudin / The Malay Mail)

Paris chambermaids strike against the cleaning inequalities of the neoliberal state

In Paris the chambermaids of the Holiday inn of Clichy in the Northern district of Paris are striking in a struggle for dignity in the face of increasing dehumanization of service workers. They have decried their work conditions with the company Héméra that contract their work to the Holiday Inn. The workers went on strike after they realized that some of their colleagues had been redirected to another hotel far away, and that workloads had increased while wages stagnated. This is part of a general workers’ response to mounting inequality.

Recently, inequality has resurfaced as a major issue in “democratic” as well as in non-democratic nations. Last week, the Word Inequality Report brought to light a multilayer study of the global rise in inequality. Although Europe has seen a slower increase of inequality, compared to the rest of the world, the increase is still significant and even more troublesome since the European model supposedly relied on a system of protections against inequality.

Employment deregulation and privatization have been touted as a rational means to resist competition in Western Europe.  In the process of privatizing services, cleaners who were employed by hotels or public services are now generally employed by service companies that contract their work. This process lowers the conditions of employment. Service provider companies have multiplied, fragmenting the gained negotiating power of workers and unions. The majority of the people thus employed are women as are 70% of the poor in the world.

Within Europe, until recently France had retained some of the best labor protections, but in recent years the labor code has been reshaped under the pretext that it was too complicated. Most recently, President Macron struck the final blow, redefining labor protection.

At the Holiday Inn in Clichy, the chambermaids said, “NO!”. Blandine Laurenjolla, a chambermaid at the Holiday Inn in Clichy with 10 years seniority, was being forced to transfer to a hotel a few hours away from her home. She is a mother of four, the youngest is only 11 months old. When she complained that she would have to leave her home every day at 4 AM, she was told that with young children she should stay home. In total 2 women were forced to transfer. These transfers and the constant pressure of Héméra company on their domestic workers was such that the strike was voted and supported by a large movement of solidarity. Even some customers of the hotel showed their support.

Thus far, Héméra and the Holiday Inn have turned a blind eye to the demand for dignity and respect for work. Additionally, the workers face constant police pressure, as a chambermaid told us: “I am a chambermaid, we are picketing and demonstrating every day. The management ignores us they send the police every day.” The district’s congresswoman has said that they were not the most visible and “important” personnel of the Hotel, not the people who count. Language opposing people who count to people who are invisible has increased. This language signifies inequality.

The struggle against invisibility is constant in the cleaning service as this crucial work is in patriarchy traditionally attributed to women.

The contracted cleaners of 75 train stations of the northern “transilien” Paris railroad network went on strike after their company was sold to another service provider company in November. The companies merge, sale and buy and the workers’lives are negotiated to a lower grade. After 44 days of strike, the movement succeeded in obtaining their affiliation to the railroad collective agreement with an increase in their bonuses, a guarantee of not being transferred without their agreement and other small advantages.

This strike was a success because the train stations were visibly dirty and dirtier every day. The work of the cleaners was visible in the absence of it. Then, the public train service was more willing to push for a better ending than the warped service businesses left alone.

These movements of resistance by the invisible contracted women workers reminds us of the importance of solidarity. Contracting work is a process key in transferring public power and money into private hands that practice individualism with no concern for a sense of human dignity. The world has never been so rich and the public wealth never so low. That is the source of a human catastrophe.

 

(Photo Credit: Julien Jaulin / Hanslucas / Humanité)

Around the world, domestic workers demand decent, living wage and work conditions NOW!

Across the globe, domestic workers are struggling and organizing for decent work conditions, a living wage, respect and dignity. In 2011, the International Labour Organization passed C189, Convention concerning decent work for domestic workers. In 2013, the Convention went into effect. As of now, 24 countries have ratified the Convention. And yet … Yesterday, domestic workers in Tamil Nadu, in India, gathered to demand a living wage and legally enforced protections. Yesterday, in Mexico, the ILO reported that 1% of domestic workers in Mexico have any kind of social security. Yesterday, a report from England argued that the way to end exploitation of migrant workers, and in particular domestic workers, is a fair and living wage. Today, an article in South Africa argued that Black women domestic workers bear the brunt of “persistent inequality”. Today, an article in France argued that economic indicators systematically exclude “domestic labor” and so exclude women. What’s going here? In a word, inequality. Women bear the brunt of urban, national, regional and global inequality, and domestic workers sit in the dead center of the maelstrom.

Today, the inaugural World Inequality Report was issued. Since 1980, income inequality has increased almost everywhere, but the United States has led the way to astronomic, and catastrophic, income inequality. In the 1980s, inequality in western Europe and the United States was more or less the same. At that time, the top 1% of adults earned about 10% of national income in both western Europe and the United States. Today in western Europe, the top 1% of adults earns 12% of the national income. In the United States, the top 1% earns 20% of the national income. It gets worse. In Europe, economic growth has been generally the same at all levels. In the United States, the top half has been growing, while the bottom half, 117 million adults, has seen no income growth.

According to the report, the United States “experiment” has led the a global economic, and state, capture: “The global top 1% earners has captured twice as much of that growth as the 50% poorest individuals …. The top 1% richest individuals in the world captured twice as much growth as the bottom 50% individuals since 1980.” The authors note, “The global middle class (which contains all of the poorest 90% income groups in the EU and the United States) has been squeezed.”

Call it global wealth – state capture relies on expanding “opportunities” for the global poor – particularly in countries like China, India, and Brazil – while squeezing the global middle class, and that’s where domestic workers come in. Paid domestic labor has been one of the fastest growing global labor sectors for the past four decades. Women have entered the paid labor force thanks to other women who have tended to the household work. After its preamble, the ILO C189 opens, “Recognizing the significant contribution of domestic workers to the global economy, which includes increasing paid job opportunities for women and men workers with family responsibilities, greater scope for caring for ageing populations, children and persons with a disability, and substantial income transfers within and between countries …”

That language was formally accepted in 2011. Six years later, domestic workers are still waiting, and struggling, for that recognition. In Mexico, groups are organizing to include domestic workers into Social Security programs as well as to ensure that employers pay the end of year bonus that all decent, and not so decent, employers in Mexico pay. In India, domestic workers are marching and demanding protections as well as a living wage. Domestic workers are women workers are workers, period. Today’s Inequality Report reminds us that the extraordinary wealth of those at the very top has been ripped from the collective labor and individual bodies of domestic workers. Structured, programmatic ever widening inequality, at the national and global level, begins and ends with the hyper-exploitation of domestic workers, through employers’ actions and State inaction. Who built today’s version of the seven gates of Thebes? Domestic workers. It’s past time to pay the piper. NOW is the time!

 

(Photo Credit: El Sie7e de Chiapas) (Image Credit: World Inequality Report / Quartz)

Children trafficked into domestic servitude in Zanzibar

Girls and women in a Zanzibari shelter

With the promises of better lives and opportunities for their children, parents are being tricked into sending their children to become domestic servants for various wealthy employers in Zanzibar. Unfortunately, the promise of wages and educational opportunities for children do not come to fruition, and many child domestic workers endure long hours, no salaries or education as promised, and have to endure slave-like working conditions.

Children like Rose became the victim of the traffic of girls into domestic servitude. With the promise of economic and educational opportunities in Zanzibar City, Rose left home to work in a wealthy family’s home. There she was subject to long hours of work, physical abuse, and inhuman punishments for not completing a job. For example, Rose was locked in a fetid, tiny outdoor latrine for more than 11 hours. She had not finished washing the dishes the night before.

Such stories are common among the children being trafficked in Tanzania to become servants and domestic laborers. Based on reports of child labor in Tanzania, 131,741 children are pushed into domestic servitude; girls constituted the majority of domestic work with 84.2% (110,911) of the total child laborers. According to the Tanzania Mainland National Child Labour Survey,

the most common risk facts that the children face include “long and tiring working days; use of toxic chemicals; carrying heavy loads; handling dangerous items such as knives, axes and hot pans; insufficient and inadequate food and accommodation, and humiliating or degrading treatment including physical and verbal violence, and sexual abuse.”

Some few, more fortunate children more fortunate work for families that treat them well enough, but most face a lifetime of abuse and exploitation. Rose’s story illustrates the abuse that most trafficked girls experience as domestic workers. The morning of her first day of work, she was beaten mercilessly by her employers. After similar and worse punishments, such as imprisonment in a latrine, Rose finally escaped to a shelter for trafficking victims.

Likewise, Rachel, a domestic laborer at 14 years old, was forced to work for 16 hours a day, doing everything from cleaning to childcare. Her employer beat her often and raped her frequently. Finally, Rachel escaped and found a shelter.

Because of outside pressure, Tanzania has begun to take the cases of trafficked children seriously, investigating 100 suspected trafficking cases in 2016. Nevertheless, there has been no headway into the agencies that bring the children to their employers. There is no sense of how to stop the flow of children from mainland Tanzania to Zanzibar. Further, no proper organization has helped reunite survivors with their parents nor does any organization formally help trafficked child domestic laborers escape from their employers. In Zanzibar, there is one offering protection for these children, and it has only ten beds. Meanwhile, the warnings from Rose and others like her have not hindered other children from following in her footsteps. Many more children are at risk of falling into the same trap of the promise of a better life, only to be pushed into slavery.

 

(Photo Credit: The Guardian / Rebecca Grant)

Elder Care Workers in the United States Are Fighting for Justice

The aging of the largest generation in the United States, the Baby Boomers, is creating a desperate shortage for care workers for elders. By 2024, upstate New York will need 451,000 home health workers in 2024; currently the state employs 326,000. Already, the shortage is problematic for New York. For example, Rebecca Leahy of North Country Home Services reports that, every week, it is unable to provide a staggering 400 hours of homecare services which have been authorized by the state. Leahy explains, “My fear is that in the near future most patients in the three Adirondacks counties of Franklin, Essex, and Clinton could be without services because the sole provider for most of this region will not be able to cover payroll.” That would leave thousands of elders without the physical and emotional urgent care that they need.

The current trend, pushing us into a critical shortage of homecare workers, has been caused by the lack of well-paying jobs in the elder health-care industry. That lack creates a pool of continually underemployed workers. Upstate New York, and most of the country, consistently employs workers at wages and conditions that keep them in poverty, causing a high turnover rate of workers in a health industry that needs stability. Currently, the number of people in the United States over the age of 65 is expected to double. With the urgent and pervasive need for personal-care aids and home healthcare workers, employers and the state should provide jobs that give aids decent wages and benefits, including paid time off and health insurance.

Those benefits have not been procured by employees. Ai-jen Poo, Executive Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, has highlighted the extreme precariousness and vulnerability in elder care workers. With an industry where 90% of workers are women, the majority women of color and 30-40% immigrants, the conditions are impossible, ‘The average income for home care-workers is $17,000 a year. The median income for an elder care-worker…is $13,000.” Additionally, according to Poo, because they are characterized as domestic workers, elder care workers don’t qualify for work protections such as “limits on hours and overtime pay, days off, health benefits and paid leave.” Workers are completely dedicated to the patient who needs care, but are unable to receive the benefits and pay they deserve, many taking care of our families and loved ones.

Nearly 75% of nursing home care and home health care is paid for through Medicaid and Medicare, where the reimbursement rate has stagnated for several years. With the Trump administration’s attempts to roll back expansions granted under the Affordable Care Act, those reimbursements are unlikely to increase any time soon.

The National Domestic Workers Alliance is one of the leading organizations in the United States working for the inclusion of domestic workers, which include elder care employees, into the Fair Labor Standards Act which guarantees workers a federal minimum wage, overtime, sick, and vacation pay.

Caring Across Generations is a coalition of more than 100 local, state, and national organizations, working towards a policy agenda which includes, “access to quality care, affordable home care for families and individuals, and better care jobs.” The organization lists four major proposals to help address the underemployment of homecare workers and the growing need for elder care services:

  1. Increase the national minimum wage floor for domestic workers to $15.00 per hour.
  2. Improve workforce training and career mobility to ensure quality.
  3. Develop a path to citizenships for undocumented caregivers.
  4. Create a national initiative to incentivize and recruit family caregivers into the paid workforce, since nearly 85% of long term care is provided by family members.

According to Ai-jen Poo, domestic workers, including elder care workers, “need fair wages, decent working conditions and access to reproductive health care, including abortions”. It seems a simple request, considering these workers provide physical, mental and emotional care for our elderly family members while sacrificing their time with their own families. Given the emerging crisis, the time to help these workers is now!

 

(Photo Credit: Caring Across Generations)

A Band-Aid on a Gaping Wound: Limits of the Law in Domestic Work in India

Domestic workers fighting abuse and slave-like conditions need legal protection. While India’s labor ministry has begun preparations to provide social security for domestic workers, further protections for workers to demand better treatment from their employers and justice for abuse and mistreatment are still needed.

Recent instances of severe abuse of domestic workers in India include a 26-year-old domestic worker from Bangladesh who was held captive by her employer, based on false accusations that she had stolen from them. She had not been paid in two months. Elsewhere, a domestic worker was tortured and then murdered by her employers, a legislator and his wife.

Even if workers organize and rights have been won, the threat of retaliation from employers remains. For example, domestic workers in a complex in Mumbai went on strike for their underpayment by employers. The, employers conceded defeat and then months later fired the maids.

Domestic workers are vulnerable because of their lack of other employment choices. According to social activist Pratchi Talwar, “Many resort to domestic work because of decline in employment opportunities in the agriculture and manufacturing sectors.”

A poll in India conducted about workplace harassment highlights domestic workers’ vulnerability, claiming that these women do not retaliate from employment abuses because of the fear of losing their jobs, fear of being stigmatized, the absence of a means of filing complaints at the workplace, and the lack of awareness about redressal mechanism. These reasons, and the lack of means to address these problems, produce a continued pool of workers vulnerable to abuse and mistreatment form their employers.

India’s labor ministry has begun the process of addressing the concerns over the mistreatment of domestic workers by defining domestic workers as workers and providing the legal protection and social security that comes with the new legal status. The introduction of the policy is intended to “set up an institutional mechanism for social security coverage, fair terms of employment, addressing grievances and resolving disputes.”

According to Sonia Rani, project coordinator of the Self-employed Women’s Association, “These are just guidelines which are not legally enforceable. What happens when there is sexual abuse, withholding salaries and denying leave? Can the workers go to court? There also has to be a non-negotiable salary regime.’

Domestic workers continue to experience higher turnover rates and can be fired at will because there is no legal protection and no national law documenting domestic work as work, giving them all the protections of workers from such legal status. There are only two laws in India concerning domestic workers, the Unorganized Workers’ Social Security Act of 2008 and the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act of 2013. Neither law recognizes domestic workers as having legal rights. Though India is a signatory to the International Labor Organization’s 189th convention on Domestic Workers, the country has not yet ratified it.

Policy shifts concerning domestic workers do not become concrete implemented law unless domestic workers are recognized as part of the labor force. Only when domestic work has been recognized as work can there be legal protections for women and girls employed as maids. Unions and organization have argued “that the mindset of regarding domestic workers must shift from a policy paradigm to one that focuses on workers’ rights. Only then, can domestic workers’ rights be defined and protected.” Until then, the actions are but a Band-Aid on a nationwide gaping wound.

 

(Photo Credit: PBS News Hour / YouTube) (Image Credit: The Economic Times)

Nancy Almorin Lubiano challenges Hong Kong’s live-In maid rule

 

For migrant domestic workers living in Hong Kong, live-in work continues to be one of the most precarious forms of work. In a new court hearing, lawyers for Nancy Almorin Lubiano, a domestic worker from the Philippines, are challenging Hong Kong’s live-in domestic rule that could affect her and 350,000 other women.

Lubiano’s lawyers are suggesting that the rule, put in place since 2003, is unconstitutional because “it heightened the risk of breaching the fundamental rights of helpers, violating international charters.”

Hong Kong’s regime originally had a more liberal stance for workers, which allowed domestic workers to provide outside living accommodations, so long as they had their employers’ permission. A year before the rule was put into place, of the city’s 200,000 maids, 100 worked as live-out employees.

Today, the rule that mandates live-in domestic help face the consequence of, “administrative sanctions in future applications for a visa or employment, and criminal prosecution over charges such as furnishing false information, which is punishable by a HK$150,000 fine and 14 years’ imprisonment.” Domestic workers face extreme precarity being forced to live in the home of their employers, always at the beck and call of their employers, and anyone attempting to flee a dangerous situation could be moved from one prison to the next.

For live-in domestic workers residing in Hong Kong, risk is ever present. According to Lubiano’s lawyers, “Key findings by Shieh included an average of 71.4 working hours per week, with more than one in three respondents deprived of their weekly 24-hor rest day as required by law. Another 40 per cent were deprived of independent rooms, some of them exposed to the rest of the household while sleeping in corridors, kitchens, and even beds above toilets.” Lubiano was given a 60 sq. ft. storeroom in a 640 sq. ft. flat shared with a family of three; because it was a storeroom Lubiano was never given privacy, since her employers had access to the room at all times. If maids in situations like Lubiano desired to leave an abusive employers, they would only have two weeks to find another employer before they are forced to leave the city.

The arguments made by Lubiano’s lawyer, Paul Shieh Shing-tai, calls the case “a challenge to the system…saying the government should not interfere with foreign maids’ private life just to achieve the purpose of monitoring and maintaining security.”

While the case is being heard by the courts, based solely on the constitutionality of the rule, the 350,000 domestic workers will live and work in a state of limbo, continuing to work in a state of insecurity. Reports illustrate that domestic workers are victims of “a range of exploitative practices that would meet the internationally recognized definitions of forced labour and trafficking.”

Lubiano and Shieh have a very narrow legal challenge for the live-in rule, as contended by Shieh himself, but the verdict of the rule has large implications for foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong. The ability to be given the choice to live out, as opposed to the powerlessness that some feel living in their employers’ home would mean the ability to have an escape from abuse and exploitation, and the end of a 24-hour on-call workday.

(Photo Credit: Hong Kong Free Press)

 

In Indonesia, education is the key for domestic workers’ empowerment

For many domestic workers, work is grueling and exploitative, with long hours and low pay. Some fight back. Others do not, feeling as if the life of a maid or domestic worker will forever mean unfair treatment and meager wages. Some are too afraid that they are replaceable and accept whatever is given to them. Others work because they believe they have no other form of education behind them with which to ask for raises or better treatment. Can domestic workers become empowered enough to fight for better wages and better working conditions, and if so, what are some of the ways they can organize?

Indonesian maids have illustrated one mode of organizing that leads to empowerment and courage to fight for better wages; education. In an attempt to combat the hostile working conditions, Indonesia has introduced a pilot training program which “aims to enhance domestic workers’ skills and win recognition for their work as a profession in a bid to fight exploitation and modern slavery.”

Indonesia remains a large provider of maids for countries such as a Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and the Middle East, while four million women are also employed within the countries as domestic workers as well. Though domestic work is one of the primary modes of employment for Indonesian women in the country, there is a larger chance for abuse for domestic workers laboring in Indonesia, because, “unlike their counterparts who work overseas, who must go through extensive training regulated by the government, there are no such provisions for local maids.” Thus, local domestic workers are in danger of exploitation and abuse, suffering from long work hours, withheld wages and a lack of formal contract, because the government does not recognize domestic work as formal work with labor protection form formal labor laws.

For women like Leni Suryani, the training program instilled the confidence to ask for a higher starting salary. As one of the first graduates of the program, “Suryani said she brushed up her skills on cooking different cuisines, housekeeping and childcare during her training, as well as learning English and using computers. At the end of the 200-hour course last year and after a test, she received a certificate given by a national professional certification board that recognized her skills.” With the certificate, she was empowered enough to negotiate a higher salary with an American family.

The International Labour Organization, which oversees the program, trains women in domestic work skills and educates them on workers’ rights so they can fight nearly slave-like conditions. Irfan Afandi, the program’s national advocacy specialist, highlighted the importance to empower women, even if it’s only with a certificate: “They think working from 6am to 8pm is normal and they should do anything they are told-from cooking to car washing and gardening. There is no clear scope of their job…They are confident because now they are professional domestic workers. They learnt the skills, it increases their employability and prospects for better work conditions.”

Training and being given such a certificate instills confidence and pride in work that is done. Like Suryani, it has empowered a once discouraged domestic worker into better wages and a better working situation. Education in workers’ rights and acquiring skill sets to help them improve the prospects empowers all marginalized women to resist falling into the trap of exploitation by means of instilling pride in domestic workers’ earned skill and labor.

 

(Photo Credit 1: Twitter) (Photo Credit 2: Twitter)