Tales of a Domestic Worker: Activism on housing needs our attention
2018-10-01 12:52:29 -


By Mariah Bhatti


Housing has been a topic on everyone’s mind in Ireland as of late, what with the recent occupation of vacant properties in Dublin city centre by a group of housing rights activists, to highlight the plight of homelessness among families, including children. These activists have stopped traffic on O’Connell Street during the evening rush hour to make a statement on their cause.

22 September was declared a national day of action, whereby people in various cities were encouraged to find local housing action groups and see what they can do together regarding the shortage of housing, and that this shortage should be declared an emergency. In the short term, their work is focused on a national day of marches on 3 October.

It makes me wonder what the situation for migrants is. In many countries, migrants tend to live in cheaper, run-down parts of the city, due to affordability but sometimes also due to the discrimination some face when they seek a home in more affluent places, even if they have jobs and can prove they will be able to pay rent.

One local council has proposed that people doing certain categories of jobs should be included in the low-cost housing list. Apparently, until now only public health workers and front-line staff were eligible. This new list will now include private sector workers such as cleaners, as the city has a shortage of staff mainly because housing in the area is quite expensive, and such low-income workers as cleaners have to travel from far outside that area just to access their jobs.

In my mind, I haven’t seen a country that doesn’t have this. If it has got to a point where authorities feel that the ‘push factor’ of housing costs is leading to the huge shortage of cleaners, then it must be a real emergency.

For example, in South Africa I know many domestic workers who commute to the wealthy suburbs on the outskirts of the city for work. It is the norm. This has gotten me thinking: imagine if all low-income workers were included to qualify for low-cost or subsidised housing? We would be far in life by now. Housing costs, and the cost of living, is the reason many people in low-paying jobs are held back and rarely progress. Maybe that’s a reason why more migrants should be open to the housing activism that is going on right now.


Mariaam Bhatti is a member of the Domestic Workers Action Group and Force Labour Action Group of the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland.

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