By Efe Remawa
Workers’ Day is marked on 1st May annually in many countries. It is meant to celebrate workers and is a public holiday in Nigeria. Workers’ Day in Nigeria is marked with rallies at which the Nigerian Labour Congress plays a prominent role. It is a work- free day for most organisations in the formal sector.
The COVID-19 pandemic opened the eyes of the world to the fact that certain groups of workers are essential to the smooth running of our societies. These range from the health sector, transportation, food stores, markets etc. Groups whose contributions we take for granted.
Domestic workers, most of whose recruitment and employment is informal, are not recognised as part of the formal group of workers. However, they seem to be essential to the functioning of so many Nigerian homes.
Their services are required by the middle and upper classes, mostly as a result of poor infrastructure like good public transportation system, poor electricity supply, insufficient day care facilities, both parents needing to work etc.
Do you doubt that domestic workers are essential to many homes? Try listening more to conversations of the middle and upper classes. There seems to be a constant discussion on their domestic help. The lack of or complaint about how incompetent their current house help, cook, maid, gateman, driver, nanny or gardener is. The search for a replacement because the worker has resigned or left without notice.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has described domestic workers as being among the vulnerable group of workers. According to the ILO, “At present, domestic workers often face very low wages, excessively long hours, have no guaranteed weekly day of rest and at times are vulnerable to physical, mental and sexual abuse or restrictions on freedom of movement.”
Many domestic workers see their conditions of employment as unsatisfactory. For many, there is no motivation, no basic training, no benefits or pension which those in the formal sector enjoy. For example, a man employed to work as a security guard in a home. He has no basic training. Yet, his employer expects him to perform at the level of a security guard recruited and trained by a security company.
Yet, employers expect complete loyalty from their domestic workers. Perhaps this could be as a result of the nature of the service provided. Considering domestic services are very personal. Cooking, cleaning, caring for children, etc.
Some people talk about the times when domestic workers were “well-behaved and loyal”. People also share bad experiences suffered at the hands of domestic workers. Unfortunately, it reminds us that so much has changed in all sectors in our society. Just as we acknowledge that there are bad eggs in all sectors of society. The employer/employee relationship in the formal sector has evolved over decades, so must that of employer and domestic worker.
The ILO recognises that, “Exploitation of domestic workers can partly be attributed to gaps in national labour and employment legislation…”
The high rate of unemployment has left many without a choice but to take up domestic work. Many who lack the right qualities or character for it.
One lesson learned from the Covid -19 pandemic is the importance of certain groups of workers. Many we did not notice. What do we do if there is inadequate implementation of existing laws to guide the employer/domestic worker relationship? First acknowledge that all workers should be appreciated and respected. Then use our sense of fairness as a guide.
– Efe Remawa, currently based in Belgium, is a lawyer and with several years of experience in the development sector