Worker’s rights under the law: Tales of a Domestic Worker
2015-08-15 12:16:56 -
Human Rights

Mariaam Bhatti


I’ve been thinking about the difference it makes when one knows what is expected of them at work. When I look back now on my first job, I don’t only laugh at myself but also feel sad when I remember how I used to think and tell people I was working a half-day on Saturdays, even when these ‘half-days’ were eight hours long.


During the usual week, Mondays to Fridays, I worked 12 to 14 hours a day. When my then employer and I discussed my contract, I was told that on Saturdays I would ‘just’ clean the house and finish for the day. But cleaning a house that had three floors, four bedrooms, a nursery and four bathrooms took around eight hours, with no breaks in between, not even time for a snack. My job was to get up and start with the kitchen and living room, so when the family woke up they would be able to have breakfast while I gave them space and started cleaning the next floor up.


Thinking back on it now, I feel that not knowing one’s rights is really like walking in the dark, as the darkness could just have anything in it – thorns, deep gorges or even dangerous animals. Equally important is to have an employment contract that outlines all the terms and conditions of employment. I mention a contract because many problems that arise for people at work, and how they are dealt or not dealt with, are directly linked to having – or not having – a contract to refer to for solutions.


Often, domestic workers have shared with me that they are made to work in two different households without extra pay. Or when the families they work for go on holidays for weeks, the workers are left to fend for themselves without any pay for that period, even if they are left to mind the house and pets, and told that since they had the house to themselves, they don’t need to be paid – which is against labour laws.


I have also heard of workers who are told in a very short space of time that because the family are going on holiday, the worker must also take their unpaid holiday and find somewhere to go for that time. People plan financially for holidays well in advance, so there is no reason to leave domestic workers so vulnerable. Still, many times when employers go on holidays, it is usually announced at short notice, with very little time left for the worker to find another job, or even somewhere to stay, for those two or three weeks.


On the other hand I know people whose jobs came not only with accommodation but also holiday pay, which is exactly how it should be. An employment relationship should be mutually beneficial. When workers are happy, they are more productive, and of course they feel valued and respected as humans and workers.


Employment contract samples are available online or from organisations like the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland, where our Domestic Worker Action Group is based. Sometimes employers don’t think contracts are necessary, but I think every domestic worker, or even any other worker, should have one, signed by both the worker and their employer. It does nothing but protect workers’ rights under the law.



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

TAGS : Mariaam Bhatti Tales of a Domestic Worker Workers Rights Workers Rights Under the Law Human Rights
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