What you need to know:
- Domestic workers have suffered mental breakdown due to the impacts of Covid-19 on the Kenyan economy.
- Some domestic workers were abandoned by their husbands after losing jobs.
- Some employers sent home long-serving elderly domestic workers without gratuity.
- There are also uncertainties over payments as some employers have lost jobs.
Domestic workers have suffered mental breakdown due to the impacts of Covid-19 on the Kenyan economy.
Ms Rose Olesi, a Nairobi-based domestic worker, was filled with anxiety over survival of her family due to reduced pay, fear of contracting the virus and employers’ complaints over less working hours.
“You will find an employer complaining that I have worked for few hours since I had to leave early to beat the 7pm curfew. And so he paid less,” said the casual domestic worker during a recent Domestic Workers and Covid-19 webinar hosted by Centre for Domestic Training and Development (CDTD).
Before the pandemic, she earned Sh700, which was reduced to Sh500.
“I was always asking myself, ‘Will I return home safe? What if my employer is infected? But I had no choice but to go out and look for work,” added the mother of four.
Ms Christine Ochengo has been staying with her domestic worker since January and Covid-19 stirred the cool in her helper.
She withdrew and became disinterested in her infant whom she had loved looking after.
On prodding, she expressed fears that her employer could not afford to pay her. She was also worried about her family.
A candid conversation between her and her helper assisted in abating the fears, Ms Ochengo said.
“I assured her of her salary. I however, made it clear that the amount of pay was dependent on availability of money,” she said.
National Domestic Workers Council chairperson Ms Ruth Khakame said some domestic workers were abandoned by their husbands after losing jobs.
“They (husbands) could not take the pressure of providing for their families,” she said during the webinar.
At the same time, some employers sent home long-serving elderly domestic workers without gratuity.
“There are domestic workers who were dismissed empty-handed even after serving their employees for 20 years,” she said.
Counselling psychologist Dr Jane Kiarie said most of the domestic workers are undergoing mental breakdown relating to finances.
She attributed this to uncertainties over payments as some employers have lost jobs, or are at home on unpaid leave. There are, however, signs that employers have to look out for to institute prompt interventions.
When domestic workers go through emotional and psychological instability, they exhibit withdrawal, unexplained extreme mood swings and sudden sadness, she said.
“You can also notice change in sleep patterns. Either they sleep too much or they don’t sleep at all. They will be up in the wee hours,” said the counselling psychologist.
“They will start seeing or hearing things that other people cannot or are easily angered. They will also set into compulsive behaviour like abusing drugs right in your house,” she added.
She emphasised that “domestic workers need access to psychological support if they are to work effectively.”
CDTD director Ms Edith Murogo said domestic workers need support as without them, the working parents could not manage to successfully engage in unpaid labour outside the home.
“Domestic workers have families to feed and children to educate. They deserve fair pay and treatment while discharging their duties,” she said.