Pandemic pivot

A number of household workers who were dismissed from their jobs at the height of the novel coronavirus pandemic have found other means of earning income, according to Jamaica Household Workers’ Union President Shirley Pryce.

“We started looking at alternative livelihoods for domestic workers during the COVID-19 period. We reached out and got funding from many places for domestic workers to do alternative livelihoods like chicken rearing, soft furnishing, people go out and bake things, and we have others who made masks,” Pryce told the Jamaica Observer after the opening ceremony for the inaugural Caribbean Conference of Domestic Workers in Jamaica last Friday.

At the same time, Caribbean development advisor for Jamaica Household Workers Union Imani Duncan Price explained that there is a greater effort to ensure all household workers have a contract, so as to avoid improper termination of employment.

“The nature of domestic work is that most people are in what you call informal employment, which means they don’t have a written contract even though there is an agreement verbally between employer and employee around work expectations and pay. The fact of the matter is that, due to informal employment, there is not a lot that can be done legally for recourse for those who were unfairly dismissed because of conditions of COVID-19,” she said.

“What we are doing is mobilising to ensure, going forward, every domestic worker that is hired by a family has a contract — a contract that stipulates that, under Jamaican law, if you want to hire somebody you have to give them at least two weeks’ notice or two weeks’ pay because without the written contract domestic workers will continue to be victims,” Duncan Price added.

During the onset of the pandemic the Jamaica Household Workers Union president had appealed to Jamaicans to assist household workers who were pushed into unemployment, by donating to a fund that was launched by the union.

Jamaica’s 6,900 household workers — helpers, housekeepers, gardeners, cooks, and nannies — were among the 25 to 50 per cent in Latin American and Caribbean countries who lost jobs in the second quarter of 2020, compared with pre-pandemic levels.

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