– Are you respecting rights of your house workers?
The title is inspired by the book ‘The Bottom Billion’ by Paul Collier, where he argues that the world is made of seven billion people of which six are emerging and one billion stuck at the bottom of society, unable to rise.
In the same vein I am afraid that one million, maybe less, of our working class – the homeworkers – may be stuck at the lowest level of our human development curve, or just outside our poverty graduation schemes.
Yet, they constitute an important asset to the productivity of our country, a big part of the Rwandan labour market, without enjoying any legal protection…
There is a maxim that says, ‘The ethical tone of a society should be judged, not by how it treats its strongest, most privileged, most powerful members, but by how it treats its weakest, most vulnerable and most in need’.
In our workplace, we frequently clamour for better conditions, salary raises and health coverage. Yet we go home and sleep with peace of mind, while our maid’s salaries are four months due. They keep our houses clean, while they sleep in dirty ghettos, stores with produces, livestock and rats…
I mean, people who abandon their wives, children and relatives in the village and come to take care of yours, with love and dedication. Others sacrifice their youth to foster your children’s, while you are able to leave at dawn and come back at dusk, find God on the weekend, all in serenity and joy.
You are leading an inconsistent existence; clamouring equality for all by day, practicing modern-day slavery by night.
They are the ones who bath and put your children to bed; they are the ones who keep the house tidy and safe. They are the dedicated friends and relatives you never had, who sacrifice their lives for yours and your loved ones to thrive. Soldiers are deployed to peacekeeping missions; wives to study tours, all the while knowing all will be fine upon their return. But there are unsung heroes here, those who make it all happen: Our house workers!
You take up graduate education and specialized training in the evening to improve your skills, enhance productivity and ultimately increase your earnings. In other words, you are part of an evolving society, on the pursuit of happiness… Yet, they are not promoted; they are not skilled, nor empowered. The time spent at your house contributes to keeping them alienated and subservient.
They are the constant gardeners, the silent partners; they are the exploited million of our society. They are so disempowered that to receive annual leave, they have to lie about a tragedy or a happy event back in the village:
‘Mama yarembye’ (My mother is sick); or:
‘Mushiki wanjye agiye gushyingirwa…’, (my sister is getting married..); so they lie to be allowed a weekend off from their dedicated service.
When I ask about their low salary, you tell me:
“Oh, but we provide food and shelter for them.”
“That was the claim of slave masters”
Now that slavery is over, where is the role of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), if it is not to protect individual rights at the workplace? Because it may be your home; it remains their workplace.
Home workers have no working hours, they have no specific job descriptions; they do it all: cook, maid, nannie, cleaner and guard. They will wake up to open for the father of the house when he comes home in the middle of the night, they will wake up early to wash the car, make breakfast and prepare the kids for school.
If they are late to wake up because of exhaustion, they will be met with insults, sometimes beating. But they can’t complain, they don’t complain. For they know they risk termination without notice, which for them is a horrifying outcome. See, unlike you, they do not have a resume, they do not have skills: they have no experience besides being in your household.
So in the rare cases some become violent because they are desperate. When they sense the end of their service near, they loose hope, steal or – God forbid – commit other atrocious actions. While I am not justifying violent actions, society is quick to judge them, call them evil. But did you ever stop to wonder what drove them to be like this?
If our maids were empowered to receive professional training, aspire for promotion, be independent, resign and apply on the job market, they wouldn’t need to be violent, lie or steal. Then again we wouldn’t control them; compress them…
While maids are at your house, they are missing out on the Ubudehe, the One Cow per poor Family, the Umurenge Sacco, all interesting poverty graduation schemes, transforming people’s lives in their respective villages. So they need to find alternatives in town like TVETs, English school, cooking lessons. House workers should all claim hours in the day and must be allowed to attend professional training, at the expense of their employers; after all that will only make them more efficient to serve you.
For that to happen, they need to be empowered, both professionally and civically, they must have access to technical skills, civic empowerment. They must unionize and negotiate with you, on their conditions with the appropriate voice. No one should be condemned to be a maid for the rest of their lives.
– When will they be allowed to pursue they own happiness?
– When will they ever have written contracts, giving them some job security and workers’ privileges?
– Who will speak for them?
Like former Nigerian president once asked: ‘what do you do; what do you do?
I leave you to ponder those questions. As for them I have but Karl Marx’s advice to give: ‘Workers of the world, unite!’; I want to add: rise up!