From where I stand: “I slept in the dog house because I wanted to go to school”Shirley Pryce, formerly a domestic worker herself, advocates for domestic workers’ rights in Jamaica and across the Caribbean. Globally The memory of her employers locking her out at night because she wanted to go to evening classes stays haunts her to date. Following Jamaica’s ratification of the ILO Convention on Domestic Workers, Pryce is advocating for a national law to protect the rights of domestic workers.
I worked for a family of four in Kingston for nine years. I wanted to study and enrolled into evening classes. But I was a live-in domestic worker and my employers didn’t think I should have any time for myself. When I came back from school at night, I found the door locked. I rang the doorbell; I knocked, but they didn’t open the door. I slept in the dog house. This happened repeatedly.
In the morning, my employers would open the door for me to come in and start making breakfast. They never asked me once, where I slept. However, I persisted and put myself through school. Eventually, I got a scholarship to study social work in Pennsylvania State University in the USA!
I went back to Jamaica after my studies and started organizing domestic workers. I didn’t want others to go through the hardships I had to suffer. We formed the Jamaica Household Workers Association in 1991 and raised awareness among domestic workers in parishes across Jamaica about their rights. We developed campaigns, distributed flyers and talked on the radio.
The world of work is changing for domestic workers in Jamaica. Now we are organized and know about our rights. We have educated the employers too. The media pays attention to us when we speak out.
But domestic workers cannot have equal rights until there are laws in place to protect them. We are working with the government on a national law for domestic workers.
People say that I am very bold. I am bold for change. When I approach government officials, I say, we are not asking you for favours. You are our government and you’re here to work for us.”
Shirley Pryce is a former domestic worker from Jamaica. She now chairs the Caribbean Domestic Workers’ Network and was one of two Caribbean representatives who participated in the International Labour Conference to develop and adopt the landmark Domestic Workers Convention in 2011. The ILO Convention 189, which has been adopted by Jamaica, lays out international human rights standards towards improving the working conditions of an estimated 67.1 million domestic workers worldwide. Recently Pryce spoke with UN Women at, “Voices on Gender Equality from CSW: Civil Society meets the Press” event, on 16 March, as part of the 61st session of the Commission on the Status of Women. Her work contributes towards Sustainable Development Goal 8, which calls for productive employment and decent work for all, and protects labour rights for all workers.
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