For time immemorial, house chores have been a necessity so that we can live decent, comfortable and healthy lives. In many cultures, women take the lead in domestic duties and as societies advance, they delegate these duties to other people – usually other women. The maid. The house girl. The Help. As our lives get busier and we chase jobs, deadlines and businesses, househelps have become an almost basic need to keep things running smoothly in our homes. Yet, for all their importance, the rights of house helps are almost forgotten, or simply unknown to us.
As parents, we cannot deny the amount of work our house helps do; cleaning the house and the yard, cooking, the laundry, raising our children and keeping our homes safe. The problem is that most of these workers face many challenges when caring for our families and homes including beatings, deprivation of food, ridiculous workloads, and even sexual abuse. It is saddening to think that the very homes they keep safe, are not safe for them.
Today we want to remind parents of some of the rights that domestic workers have in line with the Employment and Labor Relations Act, 2004.
The right to rest and holidays. Like any human being, your house help needs rest if they are to perform their duties well. You work a 9-5, have a business or two on the side and have errands to run over the weekend. At some point however, you feel the burnout and need to rest and re energize a little – be it a few times a month or that long-awaited end year holiday where you can completely get out of the city.
Remember that your house help also needs to rest, reenergize and reconnect with her family back home. Allow her to take holidays and rest so that she does not get tired of taking care of your home and children and so that she feels like a loved and important part of the family who can live her life even as she works for you instead of a machine to get all the duties done with no rest granted.
The right to official labour contracts. For a long time home helps have been brought to towns to work without official contracts and agreements are made verbally between the house helps and their employers. Although this has made it ‘easy’ to hire them, it leaves a loophole for employers to mistreat them and sometimes unfairly sack them, as there is nothing to legally protect them. Official contracts will help both you and your house help lay down fair ground rules for their employment, duties, payment and will protect both parties should anyone breach the agreement.
The right to be paid their full salaries and in a timely manner. Experience has taught us that many employers don’t pay house helps at all or give them very low salaries on the pretext that they live under their roofs and eat their food so they don’t need payment. This is unfair and is a violation of their rights as workers and humans. Remember that they too have goals they want to accomplish and oftentimes they need the money to sustain their families back home.
In recent years, we have seen horrific videos of helps that were trusted to care for children badly abusing them. Although there is no excuse for the way the women in these videos treat children, we need to do better by our helps knowing that when we are away, they are sometimes the only ones that can keep our children out of harm’s way and care for them.
Before you hire house helps; try to do a background check on their family, their behaviour and their values; ensure you lay out clear expectations for their work and that they are willing to live well with you and your children; then treat them right and talk to them daily about their duties, difficulties and what activities they did with the children. Treat them like part of the family and oftentimes, they will respect you and act as such themselves.
This article originally appeared in Sunday News’ Let’s Talk Parenting Column on Sunday, 11th November, 2018.