Columns

In praise of maids, household helpers and 'Miss Brenda'

Franklin
Johnston

Friday, July 06, 2018

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The minimum wage increase to $7,000, effective August 1, was relief for many, including maids, but we can do more. Since Emancipation, and despite HEART Trust/NTA, we have surplus of unskilled labour, so household workers abound as demand and supply works, so rates are cheap.

“Miss Brenda” taught us boys to find “shame o' lady”, which quailed modestly as our fingers caressed her tendrils; to find a battery of duppy gun plants, which peppered us with seed 'pow, pow' as we poured water on it. Maids matter!

We have done a great disservice to maids who have kept many households going; raised our kids; and boosted productivity of people tethered to full-time jobs. Yet our State does not have the ingenuity to reward them. Household staff 'free-up' others to produce and grow our gross domestic product.

So why do people hire maids?Because they can; labour surplus!

Household work is not sexy, and as a wife finds there is cash above necessities she gets help so she can get a job. Maids are surrogates for working women, and the civil service would collapse without them. This is woman's work, as a man adds no value to chores, or even emergencies as plumbing are not his forte, much less roof repair — outsourced by misogynistic irony to another man.

A permanent job is one paid from taxes, so demand for maids is due to women's dominance in libraries or teaching, nursing, and civil service. Working women need maids,;men don't! Jobless men are too busy and working men have a meeting and return after household work is done. Men have impeccable timing when it comes to chores.

In rich nations, migrants work as maids. Here, illiterate men get jobs while better educated women do domestic work, so productivity suffers; an indictment on our serial Cabinets. Who gets excited at the prospect of sorting, washing someone's dirty linen for a pittance? The minimum wage is a scapegoat for the hypocrisy of society that seeks to pacify bright women whom politicians failed. Maids exist as women are not work-shy! Men don't care who does it, and peeps say maids exist as men do not do chores. So all powers wash hands at the $7,000 — great joy until next time. Yet, we can innovate and do better!

The minimum wage was invented in Britain to keep the poor in their cages, but it creates sustainable poverty here. It gives politicians power so we believe in them — not our own massive power to create change.

The wage is not for maids to live well, but to sync their pay with civil service increases so they can pay maids — a covert pact and unions are complicit? Peeps say a free market can work in our 98 per cent black society with 100 per cent black maids as most would pay better. Peeps say most helpers earn twice the minimum wage via help with medical, school fees, house materials, etc, but politicians claim kudos.

How do rich nations deal with domestic chores? The State takes a third-plus of salaries to fund welfare, so they need not work at these jobs. Men, women have equal childcare rights and live in compact space, so domestic chores are minimal. They have full-service laundromats and firms as “Girl Friday” wash, babysit, clean, walk dog, grocery shop, dust on an hourly rate. Our Filipino maid drove a Corolla with vacuum, iron, detergent, mops, a credit card machine, and two undocumented Romanians for heavy lifting. She booked houses on our street and worked efficiently; same for the lawn, snow, window cleaner.

But there is a dark side, as some maids abuse or exploit kids. Years ago we wrote of a distressed mother who saw the maid and her pre-pubescent son having sex. Did a child agency follow up? Male, female staff may cohabit and groom kids in a home, while predatory husbands and cougar wives also prey on staff. What of trust, decency, respect; no grudge, lust or abuse; why cuss out or do evil in the house? Is there long-term psych damage? Where is safe space for kids?

As we continue to stumble up the path to prosperity, household jobs will ever be here, so we need psycho-social and economic research by our tertiary institutions. A minimum wage is blunt; unfair; and used by lazy, disrespectful Cabinets to salve consciences for failure.

Maids must pool to form “Maid of Honour”-type firms that deliver value and make money. Jamaican workers should sacrifice for a good social safety net for all, as we still pay via crime. But for now we need differentiated pay set by job evaluation; pay for value added by maid, gardener, shop assistant, so only a small group, say 20,000, is on minimum by 2022.

Let's also check the annual ex gratia family dividend piloted in Europe. Can we offer $150,000 per family (single parent too) earning less than $500,000 a year — no strings? The only condition is all must register for national identification system once hiccups are sorted.

Since 1938 unions 'hug up' old-style jobs, get angry when firms do not create jobs as they wish, and those they can't fathom leave on the minimum wage. Unacceptable! Investors make jobs, boost gross domestic product and trade unions must innovate or perish! Bless, Miss Brenda! Stay conscious!

Franklin Johnston, D Phil (Oxon), is a strategist and project manager; Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (UK); and teaches logistics and supply chain management at Mona School of Business and Management, The University of the West Indies. Send comments to the Observer or franklinjohnstontoo@gmail.com

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