Upholding domestic worker’s rights under COVID-19 environment

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about an almost complete shift of everyday life as we know it, with most effects in the negative. Domestic workers have not been spared in the wake of this devastating threat to daily life, work and survival in general. So much emphasis has been put on the need to stay safe for those providing essential services which domestic workers are a part of. As they continue working, all recommended and necessary precautionary and safety measures have to be implemented without compromise.

It is also during such times as these that the subtle disregard of basic human and domestic workers rights has perhaps become very clear and evident. Historically, changes effected over time have been preceded by such uncertain times and happenings as those that are evident in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it is also very critical to note that in as much as applauded positive changes may eventually be achieved there are unsung heroes who often pay a price, sometimes with their lives. Yes, history has a tendency of repeating itself in such a manner, but we want to clamp the wings of such historical repetitions in our era because we are an informed generation.

With this in mind, unfair and insensitive treatment of domestic workers during this pandemic is one that needs to be brought to attention, firstly for employers as they are the ones directly dealing with these hard working and committed professionals. Thumbs up to those employers who treat and work well with their helpers, such professionalism and good work conduct goes a long way in strengthening the position of domestic workers as professionals deserving due recognition and respect. It is however sad to note that there are some employers who are still subjecting domestic workers to unacceptable and almost inhumane treatment. Such cases come in different forms but the bottom line remains that we really need to denounce and put to light such unprofessional behaviour which put the lives and health of domestic workers at great risk in such a time as this.

As Domestic Workers Association, we were deeply disturbed by a report we received of a domestic worker whose employer did not inform them that there was a COVID positive person living within the household they were working. Matters worsened by the fact that the worker in question also works part-time for three other families. This means all these households, including the helper`s own family were put at risk without even knowing it because of one person`s deliberate decision to not disclose such critical information to their helper in respect of her rights, if not for the sake of logic or Ubuntu.

This is just but one out of countless cases, most of them unspoken, of mistreatment and violation of the rights, dignity and exposure to health threats of domestic workers by employers. So many other gross violations take place in the private workspace of domestic workers that is home for employers. More often than not the unjust violations committed within the ‘walls of home’ never see the light of justice.

More so, it is also apparent that employers hardly provide the necessary health and safety measures encouraged like provision of sanitizers, masks and gloves to reduce the risk of domestic helpers contracting COVID-19 during the execution of their duties. This state of affairs increases the vulnerability of domestic workers, dealing a direct blow on efforts to reduce the spread and spike in new cases.

We want to put a calling upon all relevant stakeholders carrying a mandate or sharing an interest and desire to see domestic workers and domestic work sector accorded due recognition and respect. Ministries with a part to play in ensuring that health and safety concerns of all persons in general and workers in particular are attended to and ensured. This requires a collective, consistent and swift action and active effort of all sharing common interest in working with and assisting domestic workers. The Ministry of Health and Child Care, Zimbabwe Republic Police force, Ministry of Labour, Unions, Media, Church based as well as non-governmental organizations, let us all speak with one voice, loudly and clearly against such unacceptable conduct. Domestic workers are also people and they deserve the same standards of work and fair treatment just as any other worker in any other sector does.

To neglect domestic workers is to fail to uphold the principle of promotion and protection of basic human and workers` rights. It is a gross injustice to turn a blind eye to the countless violations which domestic workers are subjected to everyday. In this COVID pandemic, we ought to join forces, report and act on violators of principles of basic human rights, safety and health in the work place especially for domestic workers.  There is need to come together and speak out. Efforts towards mitigating the spread of COVID-19 are going to be continuously futile as long as domestic workers are side-lined and exposed.