WoteSawa push for domestic workers’ rights leaves a mark
Established in 2005, WoteSawa Young Domestic Workers Organisation (hereafter, WoteSawa), the NGO has, over the years, been seeking to ensure domestic workers are fairly treated by their employers. Cases of abuse and mistreatment of domestic workers are rife in Mwanza Region, just as it is elsewhere in the country. Now that is where WoteSawa comes in—to awaken employers and employees to the fact that those who work in people’s homes deserve to enjoy rights that any employee elsewhere accesses.
According to Mr Elisha David, the WoteSawa project coordinator, the centre handled 48 cases domestic workers abuse in 2017 while these were 43 as of September 2018. Complaints that the organisation handled were mostly those of underpayment, underage employment and cruelty.
“Most cases are those of girls,” he says, noting that houseboys are bolder than housegirls and can take drastic decisions to escape from any crude treatment meted out treatment by employers.
The work of WoteSawa, besides the interventions they undertake when matters of violations of domestic workers’ rights are brought before them, is to sensitise, not only the workers, but employees as well. And that is where Foundation for Civil Societies comes in.
“The FCS has offered us financial and organisational support in our campaigns to sensitise people on the right way to engage domestic workers—so that they know and appreciate the fact that a domestic worker is an employee like any other,” says Angela Benedicto, the WoteSawa Executive Director.
Noting that as per the Child Act (2009) a 14-year old can be engaged as a domestic work, Project Coordinator David says organisations such as WoteSawa has a major role in protection employees who are that young since they are, naturally, most vulnerable to all manner of abuse by unconscionable employers.
“With the support of the Foundation, we have been seeking to ensure every ward in the areas we operate has a Baraza la Watoto (Child Protection Committee) and young domestic workers should be involved in such barazas.
Mr David notes that the media has a huge role to play in the protection of young domestic workers as well as, so among the tasks of this organisation, has been to work closely with the media. In 2017 for instance, it organised a meeting that brought together 21 journalists who looked into ways of exposing the plight of domestic workers and how the media can contribute in efforts to alleviate their plight.
In sum, he says, FCS has helped WoteSawa to improve its organisatinal capacity, hence bettering the way its staff handles people, project management, lobbying, advocacy and publicity.
In its effort to champion the welfare of domestic workers, WoteSawa has established in Nyamagana District an outfit named Friends of Domestic Workers, two from each of the six wards. These meet regularly to appraise the situation of domestic workers in Nyamagana.
Through sensitisation meetings, WoteSawa believes it has enabled employers and employees, as well as the society at large, to acknowledge that domestic workers have rights, which must be subscribed to, for they fall under Tanzanian laws.
The Executive Officer for Mkolani Ward, Mr Godfrey Mwangona, says people need to be educated of their rights and those of others and since the government cannot do everything on its own, NGOs such as WoteSawa must be commended for chipping in.
“Because of the sensitisation meetings organised by WoteSawa, I am sure most of my people are aware of the rights of domestic workers,” he says. On the notice-board outside his office, there is notice printed on an A4 sheet, which spells out the rights of domestic workers and the employers’ obligations.
He told us he has a list of all domestic employees in his area of jurisdiction and, he notes: “Cases of young girls coming to my office to complain of mistreatment by their employers have gone down by over 90 per cent.”
DOMESTIC WORKER EMPLOYER
Ms Elizabeth Uiso, a Mwanza City resident who lives in Butimba, says she owes her understanding of the rights of domestic workers to a seminar she attended, which she learnt was sponsored by the FCS through WoteSawa.
“A friend of mine called Monica told me about it and I got interested… I am an employer of a housemaid and I wanted to know if there was something I didn’t know which I should know,” says Ms Uiso, a mother of three.
She concedes she was never aware there was any statutory salary for housemaids and her conscience was clear that she was paying her Sh30,000 per month.
She says she paid for the maid’s medical care anytime she fell sick but she considered it a gesture of kindness;—now she is aware it is her legal obligation as an employee. “When she comes from her two-week leave, her salary will be forty thousand and we shall have a contract,” says Uiso.
She further tells us she will spread what she knows to others in her bid to fight mistreatment of domestic workers in the country.
For her part, Ms Catherine Faida (17), a domestic worker in Nyamazabe Hamlet in the outskirts of Mwanza City, WoteSawa officials have been very educative to her and other domestic workers in their area.
Born in Senga Village, Geita District, Catherine says she has been working for her current employer for the past three years.
She says her employer is an old pensioner and a widower who gave no objection when she said she wanted to go for a seminar for domestic workers, ran by WoteSawa.
“WoteSawa officials were going from house-to-house, telling people of the importance of learning about domestic workers’ rights…I have learnt a lot from them and I teach others what I learnt,” says Catherine who dropped out of school at Form 2 in 2013 since her parents couldn’t raise money for her fees.
Chairman for Nyamazabe hamlet, Julius Kihamba says, “I know employers who have increased their housemaid’s pay from Sh30,000 to Sh50,000… for sure, the WoteSawa campaigns are working,” he tells our writer who paid a visit to his office.