House Helps: The Real Unsung Heroes of the Nigerian Economy
Written by Taiwo Adediran on August 11, 2019
Too many of us have become accustomed to the mistreatment of domestic help.
What is unknown to many Nigerians is that domestic workers are the backbone of all Nigerian industry. Life in busy commercial centres such as Lagos, Port Harcourt and Abuja is so fast-paced that working professionals rarely have time to perform even the most basic of domestic tasks.
So our bank managers, doctors, CEOs and engineers that we are all so proud of would not be able to carry out their duties at all if not for their domestic staff who hold down the fort for them during the workday. In light of this, we Nigerians owe our domestic help better treatment.
Despite how little Nigerians respect it, domestic work is not easy. Housegirls, gardeners, drivers and the like often work on an as-needed basis, meaning that their employers can make them work 18-hour days or more if they wanted to.
It would be a good start if domestic work was upgraded from being an informal industry to one which is treated with just as much value as all others. Domestic staff deserve unions, a fair wage, protection from abuse and hostility in the workplace, and so much more. Domestic staff deserve government protection.
How domestic staff are often treated speaks to how little Nigerians truly think of unskilled workers and their labour. Think about how often domestic staff are disrespected and relegated to the status of second class citizens simply because of the nature of their work.
Worse still is the fact that domestic staff are often individuals who lack the means to make a better life for themselves. In Nigeria, 80% of domestic workers are women and mostly underage children. Many of these children were sent into cities from their villages by their families, who could not afford to send them to school. Exacerbated by the fact that domestic workers are often uneducated, they usually lack the resources or knowledge required to stand up for themselves.
The good news, however, is that they may not need to. If we Nigerians merely accept our responsibility as a people to treat our domestic staff with respect and dignity, then we can address all of these problems at once.
Regardless of where you get your domestic staff from, sit down with them and have a heart-to-heart conversation. If they came from an agency, ask them if they are given a fair share of the wages that they earn. If they came from a village, ask about their working conditions and living expenses. Make sure that you are being fair.
At the institutional level, the government needs to put in place a national whistleblowing system designed to protect domestic staff from abusive and exploitative employers.
What this commentary is asking for is not a dramatic revolution in the treatment of informal sector workers. On the contrary, this commentary merely asks that we show some degree of human compassion and kindness towards the unsung heroes whose labour enables us to pursue lucrative careers that we enjoy.
Funmilayo Adetokunbo A-A, a political and International Affairs Analyst, writes from Somerset, England, United Kingdom.