Domestics: Domestic work is important. Deal with it.

Domestic labor, which includes everything from caring for the elderly to doing laundry, is a profession that exists globally. From South Africa to China to England, domestic labor exists in hundreds of thousands of households. A great deal can be learned from researching the pivotal group of domestic laborers across cultures. Domestic labor is important.

Something is important when it has great value or significance. In the case of domestic work, it means that it is worth it to take the time and energy to examine and understand the purpose, consequences, and meaning of domestic care and labor. Domestic work is important because it changes society. Domestic labor or care is an integral and important element of global society. Examining the importance of this labor form allows for a greater understanding of that global society. Through a closer examination of domestic labor, or by considering it to be significant, more can be learned about class, race, gender, cross-cultural interactions, and global exchange.

In the United States, a “care crisis” is currently plaguing families as the ageing baby boomer population heads into retirement. The crisis consists of more elderly persons needing some type of care and fewer able to provide it. Because of improvement in health care that extend a person’s lifespan, the demand for these works is likely to increase and become a serious problem. The “care crisis” cannot be managed by dealing with the number of individuals that require care. Instead, we must consider the workforce and look at how appropriate care workers can be introduced into the workforce. Caring Across Generations attempts to address this issue by finding solutions to the care crisis through training programs, policy solutions, and enhancing the relationships between care workers and those they care for. This “care crisis” is an important issue in American society today. By understanding and studying the field of care work, we can better understand and find ways to fix, manage and survive the crisis.

Part of the problem is the value of work: “It is easy to appreciate why work is held in such high esteem, but considerably less obvious why it seems to be valued more than other pastimes and practices”. Work is acknowledged as something important, and choosing to not work results in condemnation. But only specific types of work hold value. For example, there is a great difference between the work of a neurosurgeon and a janitor. It is said the former required years of education, training, and work to be able to attain his or her position. The janitor required less training and preparation to be perform her or his labor correctly. So, the janitor is paid much less than the doctor. But is the janitor’s work less valuable?

According to US standards, yes, it is. The work performed by the janitor is considered commonplace, and she or he is considered replaceable. The wages for housework is a perfect large-scale example. Housewives asking for compensation for work they were expected to perform with smiles on their faces seemed farfetched and unreasonable. Despite its budgetary difficulties, the plan had the potential to place the issue of housework on the national front burner.

The amount of work contributed through caring for children, the elderly, and maintaining a household should not be overlooked. It is a time consuming endeavor and an extremely important one. In this context, importance is so great that were the work to cease, society would collapse.

From the need for domestic workers to what the position itself can explain about social structures, domestic labor needs to be studied and understood. It is important. It deserves to be examined, researched, argued, debated, and challenged. A system of gender biases, abuse, and blatantly inhumane treatment persists in domestic labor employment. This is intolerable. Unless the field is examined, how can these systemic abuses be successfully eliminated and the contradictions of importance and value resolved?

Organizations such as the ILO are attempting to remedy the very real issues in this particular labor market, but it is a difficult road. The ills that exist within domestic labor are so ingrained that it seems nearly impossible to eradicate them completely. This, however, should not diminish the importance of domestic work. Just as poorly treated worker should not accept abuse because of fear, others should not accept silence merely because the task of change seems insurmountable. Change is slow and difficult, but it is necessary. And above all it is important.

 

(Image Credit: International Labour Organization)

 

Domestics: Tell Governor Brown Domestic Workers Are Workers

Hundreds of thousands of domestic workers will remain unprotected by state law while at work following Governor Jerry Brown’s veto of AB889. While Brown acknowledged they were doing “noble work”, he felt there were “too many unanswered questions” about the bill’s contents. A fair portion of his questions expressed concern for the employer, not the domestic worker.

The measure would have provided meal breaks, overtime pay, and rest periods during long shifts. Opponents of AB889, such as the California Chamber of Commerce, argued that allowing domestic workers to have such provisions would be “impractical at best and dangerous at worst.”

Cost effectiveness is something that should be considered in the course of any measure, but not at the expense of workers’ safety. This sort of logic is not tolerated at other levels of business. Domestic work should be no exception. There is a tendency to overlook the importance of domestic workers and to ignore the fact that they are indeed workers. Working in an environment previously deemed the private sphere is no justification for denying over 200,000 individuals their rights.

Their place within the home and their performance of duties that are not traditionally viewed as the task of a non-family member have somehow earned them a place below that of other working class individuals. Brown claimed that domestic work is a “noble endeavor”. If that’s so, why doesn’t it warrant the protections granted to all other occupations of similar status and pay?

Additionally, a large percentage of domestic workers in California are female immigrants. Advocates of this legislation have explained that the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights would provide them with some sorely needed protections. By vetoing this bill, Governor Brown has denied domestic workers their civil rights and forced them to face unsafe working conditions with no means of recourse.

Mackenzie Becker