• Thursday, February 29, 2024
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Domestic help or modern day slavery?

A while ago, I went to a friend’s house for a meeting and not too long after I got there, my friend and her husband had to bid their guests farewell so I joined them to do so. As we got back into the house, her domestic staff (who certainly has become a member of their family) came to her and spoke in the demeanour that showed she obviously had been ‘cajoled’ by her boys (By this I mean my friend’s sons who completely adore her and even call her Aunty) to speak to their mum on their behalf. Their mum had said no fizzy drinks but they trusted ‘Aunty’ to do the plea bargain for them and guess what? It worked. I was amazed at the relationship that ensued between my friend and the domestic staff and most especially my friend’s sons. She further told me that not too long ago, her son got into a child-fight in school and when her domestic staff heard she said ‘my boys don’t fight, it can’t be possible’, she told me her son was so embarrassed and the only thing that kept ringing in his heart was that my ‘Aunty’ will be disappointed.

As I sat with my friend in the parlour, I watched closely how she was with my friend’s sons on the dining table in conversation with them while they ate; it was such a beautiful sight to behold. If no one told you she was a domestic staff, you would never know. My friend and her husband have bought her a land in her village and she’s building a house… did you just ask me “A domestic staff?”…to your mind bugging question I respond “Yes! A domestic staff”

Hear this second scenario, a young house help works with a family with three children. They went out for lunch in a restaurant and seeing the family, it was easy to tell that they were quite comfortable. My friend who was at the same restaurant with her children couldn’t hold back her feelings as she shared this with me. She said she watched how the young help ensured the children were taken care of, the children would get up severally to pick any thing they wanted to eat since it was buffet but the help wasn’t allowed to eat anything not even take a glass of water. The woman, the help and her children all sat and continued enjoying the feast and all the help kept receiving were instructions on watching over the children. She told me she was so hurt that she felt like doing two things, getting up to go and pay for her meal or filming the scene and putting it up for all to see on social media “Kemi, this was the most inhuman thing I had seen in my life. How can she be so mean? I watched closely and thought perhaps they would have some take-away for her when they were leaving but that did not happen. Gosh! I was so pained Kemi, this woman could afford to pay for this young girl’s food. It would have been better for her to have left her at home that ‘torture’ her this much” she said to me.

In another event recently, a Lagos businesswoman popularly known as Madam Gold (who is currently facing child abuse and human trafficking charges) poured boiling water on her domestic help whom she brought from Jos. Information gathered revealed that when passersby reached her and asked what happened, she told them her boss poured hot water on her after beating her over a phone that got lost in their shop during the course of business and sadly, no form of medication was administered to her for three days until the Task Force intervened.

Gory right? Also, recently, news reports and blogs shared the story of 14 year old Faith, a domestic servant in Abuja whose principal, Roseline Uzoamaka forced her to sit on a burning electric cooker because she wet the bed. While Faith is recuperating at the hospital, Roseline, her boss has been arrested by the police.

“Many are marginalised and their rights trampled upon because they emerge from poverty stricken backgrounds and they are also extremely frightened to go home because they know they cannot afford 3 square meals a day or go to school. As a result of this, they continue to work as domestic workers under any conditions. Some are sexually abused, beaten and treated with so much disrespect as if they were lesser beings. Many of them do not get time off and are compelled to work long hours such as 12-19 hours a day, 365 days a year.” Says Jacyee Aniagolu-Johnson, a Nigerian-born, US- trained research scientist and social activist.

According to UNICEF, Nigeria (2006) information sheet, 15 million children under the age of 14 work as domestic workers across Nigeria. International Labour Organisation in a recent study entitled: ‘Domestic workers across the world’ revealed that there are at least 53 million domestic workers worldwide. They are mostly women who work in clandestine homes globally, opening them up to various forms of abuses better termed ‘modern day slavery’.

The stated figure, which excludes child domestic workers, is on the rise both in advanced and developing countries. Furthermore, an estimated 10.5 million children are used as domestic workers worldwide with most of them under age.

On June 16, 2011, ILO members – governments, trade unions, and employers’ associations agreed to adopt the ILO Convention Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers (Domestic Workers Convention, No. 189). This birthed the first international paradigm for domestic workers.

In this lofty idea, domestic workers are entitled to the same basic rights as those available to other workers in their country, including weekly days off, limits to hours of work, minimum wage coverage, over¬time compensation, social security, and clear information on the terms and conditions of employment. These principles compel governments that agree to protect domestic workers against brutality and maltreatment, to control private employment agencies that employ domestic workers, and to avoid child labour as domestic occupation.

In Nigeria, the Labour Act in Section 65 states that: The Minister may make regulations providing for-

(a) The engagement, repatriation or supervision of domestic servants

(b) The employment of women and young persons as domestic servants

(c) The housing accommodation and sanitary arrangements of domestic servants

(d) The conditions of domestic service generally.

Sadly, Nigeria is yet to have a codified law that protects the rights of domestic workers who go through gruesome experiences in the country. In relation to the terms of employment of domestic staff, the Lagos State Criminal Code states in Section 206 that it is the duty of every person who as master or mistress and has contracted to provide necessary food, clothing, lodging or medical treatment for any employee or apprentice under the age of eighteen (18) years to provide the same; and he shall be held to have caused any consequence which results to the life or health of the employee or apprentice by reason of any omission to perform that duty. This according to LegalNaija, (the law blog educating Nigerians on their legal rights, duties and obligations under the law) is to what extent it goes regarding the terms of employment of domestic staff.

Another twist to matters arising on domestic staff is their payment of taxes. Earlier this year, The Lagos State Government says it has commenced a process to extend tax payment obligation to domestic workers and artisans in the state. According to the Executive Chairman, Lagos State Internal Revenue Service, Olufolarin Ogunsanwo, “We have identified three categories of tax payers in the informal sector. These are market men and women; artisans – micro, small and medium scale enterprises – and household domestic staff. These categories of people are expected to remit one percent of what they earn to government’s coffers.”

For Ivie Omoregie, a Project Finance lawyer with one of West Africa’s highest ranking law firms. “Many employers of domestic staff do not appreciate the fact that they are required under the provisions of this Act to make deductions from the salaries of their employees and pay same to the relevant tax authority. The ramifications of this is that, they have left themselves liable to the mercy of a regime that is about to acquire significant debt and seriously looking for money. The FIRS has stressed that every citizen must be in compliance with the provisions of this Act in order to ensure the availability of funds for sustainable national development.”

A domestic worker or domestic helper is a person who works within the employer’s household. Domestic helpers perform a variety of household services for an individual or a family, from providing care for children and elderly dependents to housekeeping, including cleaning and household maintenance. Other responsibilities may include cooking, laundry and ironing, shopping for food and other household errands.