One of my favourite things to do in the mornings while on vacation is to watch local tv talk shows. I find Smile Jamaica quite refreshing and informative … and the host are just wonderful.
Yesterday (ok, this is more like a year ago, since this blog has been in draft since 20-May-11), they interviewed the president of the Jamaica Household Workers Association, a group that provides support services and forums for domestic helpers in Jamaica. I didn’t see the interview from the beginning but caught it in time to hear that she would be going to Geneva Switzerland to attend the 100th Session of the International Labour Conference from June 1 – 17, 2011. Just the mere mention of the International Labour Organization (ILO) piqued my interest as I had the opportunity whilst being a part of the Union movement of my company some years ago to attend a workshop put on by the ILO. At the time, the focus was on working conditions, equality of wages for men and women and the right to union representation in the organization.
This year, one of the agenda items is “Decent Work for Domestic Workers”. This brought a smile to my face for several reasons. If anyone of you has had a helper or knows anyone who has a helper, the description usually brings about some amount of humour to the conversation. Domestic Workers or Helpers as we call them in Jamaica, are generally stereotyped as illiterate women who got pregnant at 15 and was able to do nothing more than wash, clean and iron to make a living. I didn’t have the luxury of having a helper … yes, I had to wash clean and iron for myself for my entire adult life until about 2 years ago, I convinced my husband that my body and our life as a couple would not hold up much longer if I was just tired all the time. Fortunately for me, I’ve only been through 2 helpers, 1 who went on hiatus after an illness and the other who came in to fill her space and did an excellent job of handling my chores while I spent more time doing other things, such as spending time with my children, reading, gardening, etc.
For many families, the idea of a “helper” doesn’t begin to describe the level of involvement of this person in their lives. The helper to some is the very backbone of the family. These are usually “live in helpers” and do everything from washing clothes, cleaning and maintaining the home, ironing, cooking, taking care of the children before and after school, helping with homework and in rare instances, supervise other worked who are also employed to serve the head of the household in whatever way (gardener, chauffeur, etc.)
I would like the day to come when the Domestic Workers association will seek to further empower these women, and remove the astigmatism that comes with the job of being a helper. There are so many people who treat these women worse than their own dogs, because they view them as “maids” or “slaves” who are worth no more than the minimum wage most of them earn. These domestic workers deserve much more respect that they receive today. Don’t get me wrong, as in every profession, there are those that give the good ones a bad name, by destroying people’s clothes or furniture, steal money and grocery items, and possibly abuse children. These are NOT the ones to which I refer. I am referring to those women who take their job ad a domestic worker seriously enough to do the job well, professionally and with due and proper care. Many families could not survive or function efficiently without a domestic helper. I salute all deserving domestic helpers who give their employers a reason to be proud. My hope is that the Jamaica Domestic Workers Association will garner the support necessary to provide the necessary guidance to this group of very important workers. There are courses that can be done in Household Management, and they should encourage their members to avail themselves of these courses to make them better at what they do.