No awards for domestic work
2016-03-14 16:17:06 -
Human Rights

Mariaam Bhatti: Tales of a Domestic Worker


Have you ever thought of an award like domestic worker or au pair of the year? Well, I have for the last two weeks, since reading a very interesting article about an awards system started by a US au pair agency based on nominations by host families.

What I found most interesting about this was that the criteria for nomination were all about how a given au pair had gone the extra mile to accommodate changing circumstances and last-minute calls to work by the family. Basically, the au pairs in question sounded like super-workers, available for anything, any time.

As far as awards go in general, I’m not sure if I agree with rating people like that, although I see the point in motivating others. We are all different as individuals; although our performances can be measured the same way, we all have different rates at which we work and different styles, and even have different circumstances that mean we are not available for anything, any time.

But on the other hand, I have never been ‘employee of the month’ or year or any other time in my life, so I am possibly biased. I simply don’t see its purpose, especially in high production or manufacturing jobs, except the assumption that people should behave like machines. I know that it is okay to do well and to be content with just knowing one has done their best, and to not be overly and unnecessarily competitive because there might be some sort of reward. I know many workers always have a way to go the extra mile without any reward simply because they are happy at work.

Still, I think an award for ‘host family’ or ‘domestic work employer of the year’ would be a useful award. Based on the experiences of women in the Domestic Workers Action Group, I can almost imagine whose employers would be nominated; I hear beautiful stories of amazing employers in Ireland who are doing things right, and sometimes even asking migrant organisations or other domestic workers they know how to go about doing so.

It’s unfortunate that many domestic workers who have good employers have also previously had negative experiences, though fortunately those allowed them to know the signs of bad employment to be able to avoid it. I wish we all could do that, but sadly some people are more vulnerable than others, such that they end up taking any work out there just for their own or their loved ones’ survival.

Should fair working conditions be a priority for governments the world over? I think so. The Australian government, for one, has started an initiative to support and reward employers who do everything possible for their domestic staff who may be experiencing violence at home. Do you know why? It’s because studies show that when an employee faces violence in the home, it affects their participation and productivity in work, therefore there’s an incentive for employers to want to address the issue.

Perhaps if the Irish Government were part of initiatives that reward good employers, there would be a greater incentive for employers to do the right thing.


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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