• Thursday, May 23, 2024
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The domestic worker’s dilemma

domestic workers (1)

By Samuel Kanu
Domestic workers are often marginalised and particularly vulnerable to the harsh impacts of COVID-19. They have very limited safety nets or healthcare, and no regulatory cover under labour legislation, leaving them at the mercy of employers for healthcare cover, education, and annual leave. Hence, it is important to consider these workers which include house helps, nannies, drivers, and gatekeepers, supporting several households across the country, and making the lives of much easier. Some of the responsibility for inclusive support lies on direct employers (companies or households) as well as the government. The key challenges facing the workers are below:

The domestic worker’s dilemma

Gender disbalance
A Dalberg analysis found that women in India take on 10 times the workload of unpaid domestic work compared to men. In Nigeria, women make up for over 63 per cent of Nigeria’s domestic household workers and are particularly prone to increased risks of infection as unfair gender roles force more women employed as house helps and cooks, with the task of caring for sick parents and children, without proper safety awareness.

Inclusive welfare
Domestic workers are underpaid or unpaid, leaving this segment with no safety nets to afford healthcare post-layoffs. Additionally, while Nigeria is yet to implement cash handouts to support vulnerable households and recently unemployed workers like the US, there is a risk of neglecting vulnerable domestic workers without access to bank accounts, or capabilities of filing for cash support. Recently, the union for domestic workers in South Africa called for more inclusive support as

government funds excluded domestic workers, adding that its members complained about hunger due to income losses from the lockdown.

Read Also: Health workers strike will endanger the lives of patients, FG warns

Potential solutions

Household and corporate employers should, for domestic staff and household/ management safety:

  • Limit the exposure of domestic employees to coronavirus hotspots (e.g., time of shopping, limit errands etc.)
  • Ensure that staff can wash hands, at work and preferably at home, with the provision and proper usage of hand sanitisers
  • Provide face masks with guidelines on proper use if employees are meeting other people
  • Ensure proper education on preventive and early detection practices. Consequently, expelling any speculation that the virus is “for the rich” or “a hoax” as anecdotal reports from low-income populations have suggested
  • Help with transportation. Employees with weekly or daily commutes to work must be provided with safe transportation which can be achieved by proper education on personal hygiene and right use of protective equipment, as well as the need for social distancing, or the use of private commute options
  • Pay for sick leave, and this should be communicated before any sickness occurs
  • Provide salary advancements at specific times to support bulk food purchase during the lockdown.

Additionally, there is a need for a federal stimulus grant, aimed at providing food aid and cash handouts at household levels. Finally, national awareness efforts must include anti-stigma campaigns to ensure that sick people feel safe reporting symptoms, rather than avoiding help which will slow down the tracking of new cases due to fears of community hostility.

 Samuel Kanu is an international development consultant at Dalberg Advisors, a global group working to build a more inclusive and sustainable world