Dealing with a difficult boss
2017-01-15 10:36:48 -
Mariaam Bhatti: Tales of a Domestic Worker

Over the Christmas break I was chatting through the family WhatsApp group to a relative, my mom’s cousin who is a live-in domestic worker back in Johannesburg. It’s a great feeling to be connected to some relations I haven’t seen since I was in secondary school.


During one of our chats, cousins from my mom’s side and I were talking about our jobs. This cousin in particular described her room at the back of her employer’s house as a sleeping place only. I thought that an unusual thing to say.


Prompting her to explain, I teased that she was moaning over a free bed and food where she’s the only tenant with no one bothering her. She agreed she didn’t have to worry about transport costs and queues in the morning or arriving late for work.


However, she works six days a week, from dawn to dusk, and at weekends, after doing a half-day on Saturdays, she spends most of the time catching up on sleep. She sounded delighted to get a two-week break over Christmas, even though she emphasised that she does not mind the work that much, despite it being hard and never-ending.


The reason is that she knows she is doing it for her children’s future. What she disliked most, she said, was being screamed at and ordered around “like a child”. I felt for her, and could not imagine what it would be like to work for someone like that.


I once worked at a butcher’s as a cashier, and I lasted only one month. I was not as enlightened as I am today about things like gender inequality, racism, workplace bullying and oppression. All I saw in my employer was just a difficult boss.


There were about 12 of us working in the place. We were not allowed to talk to each other while chopping meat or even during our lunch break, which was as long as it took to finish two slices of bread and a cup of tea.


Each of us took turns to make lunch for everyone; I liked that bit but it was also closely watched. I also liked being dropped off home in a van at the end of the shift because we finished after public transport was finished.


I didn’t like having someone stand behind us cashiers, watching like hawks over every financial transaction we made. It made me feel we were considered untrustworthy no matter how much loyalty and honesty we displayed in our dealings.


Based on that experience, all I could advise my cousin was that she should politely tell her employer that she enjoys her work despite its challenges, but she does not appreciate being shouted at like that. I do hope it works out for her.


Knowing what I know now, I would have politely told my employer he was not only enslaving us but also treating us as if we were not humans.


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

TAGS : Mariam Bhatti Tales of a Domestic Worker Difficult boss
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