Atieno washes dishes, Atieno plucks the chicken, Atieno gets up early, Atieno beds her sacks down in the kitchen... Atieno needs no pay, reads Majorie Oludhe-MacGoye's famous poem; Atieno Yo.
The British-born missionary who married a Kenyan, was bemoaning the plight of house-helps in the Kenya of the 1980s. Sadly, today house-helps face the same challenges as Atieno.
So little has changed to make house-helps feel wanted and appreciated for the heavy-lifting they do to make homes the good places to go to after a long day at work or in school.
The hiring, often under stressful conditions with no written agreements, leaves house-helps disadvantaged. There are cases where house-helps are mistreated, denied food, forced to work long hours without rest and no leave whatsoever.
Others are physically and sexually assaulted countless times. And all this for a pitiable pay and a less than hospital place to live in. But in a rapidly changing society, workers are increasingly getting aware of their rights and entitlements.
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Though some employers argue that since their house-helps enjoy free accommodation and eat their food, they don’t merit better pay. Such simplistic reasoning fails to take into account that these workers have families that are dependent on them for upkeep, education, medical care and other necessities of life.
Mercifully, the Employment and Labour Relations Court is enforcing provisions of the Employment Act 2007 which, among other things, states that termination of service must be preceded by a one-months’ notice, payment for accrued leave days and payment of severance pay.
In addition, employers must keep updated records of their employees and ensure salaries paid are receipted as documentary proof in the event of a dispute arising. Already, some employers have fallen foul of the labour regulations at a huge pain to themselves. Surely, if nothing else, domestic workers deserve better.
And even in spite of the labour laws, common sense dictates that house helps be treated humanely and be given what is due to them.