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Profile of a Domestic Worker in Maputo, Mozambique
Every morning Camarada Albertina Mundlovo wakes up at the crack of dawn, ready to battle the crowds waiting at her neighborhood taxi stand. With over one million inhabitants,
Like most domestic workers, Mundlovo is expected to arrive before her employer leaves for work. Fearful of arriving late, she catches a public taxi in the opposite direction, then doubles-back towards the city. “I end up paying double,” she explains. “But if I waited for a direct route, I would never get on. Women have lost their lives fighting for a spot.”
Employers often turn a blind eye to the transportation crisis, she argues. The commute from Hulene to the upscale Polana neighborhood where she works takes 45 minutes. Covered in a capulana (cloth wrap) to guard against the morning chill, she waits outside until 7:30 AM when her employer lets her in.
Mundlovo is one of at least 37,000 domestic workers working in and around
During the Portuguese colonial period, domestic work was highly regulated, but unprotected. Following independence in 1975, regulation of this sector collapsed, but domestic workers were not included in the new labor regime that emerged.
Nonetheless, the number of domestic workers in Maputo continued to grow as refugees flooded into the city during the civil war (1976-1992) and the public care system disintegrated with the implementation of International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank structural adjustment programs. Mass retrenchments with the privatization of state industries, pushed formal sector workers into the informal sector. Estimates suggest that today over 80 percent of
Mundlovo was not always a domestic worker. Originally from Marracuene, she came to
In 1990, Mundlovo’s husband passed away. As is customary, her three young children went to live with his family. She had two options—either marry one of her late husband’s brothers and live with her children or fend for herself. Influenced by her time in the army, Mundlovo, who had always been stubbornly independent, opted for the latter. “I was unwilling to bow down to anyone to make myself inferior.”
First, she tried her luck at making coal—a traditionally male profession. Then she became a trader at the local bus depot where miners, waiting for armed escorts to take them to the South African border during the civil war, were willing to buy virtually anything.
Eventually Mundlovo re-married and moved back to
Nicknamed the “patience industry” by domestic workers, it is characterized by low wages, long hours, rigorous schedules, humiliating tasks, unhealthy working conditions, and vulnerability to abuse. Mundlovo finds this paradoxical given the intimate nature of the profession.
“We are the pillars of their households. We protect their belongings, their families, even the money they leave lying around. I raised a child from when he was born until he was ten,” Mundlovo recalls. However, even after being like a second mother to children, she says that domestic workers get no respect. “We have the same blood running through our veins but we are treated as an alien species.”
Until recently, domestic workers in
Framed in terms of rights and responsibilities, domestic workers now have the right to a contract, set schedules, breaks, one weekend day, time off, social security, and workers’ compensation. In exchange, domestic workers have the responsibility to be punctual, obedient, hygienic, loyal, and maintain good relationships with other employees, visitors, and third parties.
The approval of Decree 40/2008 reflects a growing recognition by unions, policymakers, and academics of domestic workers’ contribution to the household and economy at large. According to the National Assembly, “Domestic labor is a highly important sector in
Today, there are three organizations in
Notably, Decree 40/2008 does not include a minimum wage. Given that employers’ incomes vary widely, the National Assembly argues that a minimum wage would undermine the employer’s ability to secure care for the young and elderly and also trigger mass retrenchments. Some advocates argue that it could even reduce wages: “We have some colleagues who earn $104.70 or more and I doubt that minimum wage would be set at more than Mts 2000,” speculates Luisa Matsinhe, Secretary General of AEDOMO. “A minimum wage will encourage employers to fire current workers and hire new ones at the lower minimum wage.”
However, SINED contends that a minimum wage is necessary given the extremely low salaries in this sector.
Mundlovo says that in practice, Decree 40/2008 has had no impact on her working conditions. The state has done nothing to educate domestic workers, employers, and state officials about their rights and responsibilities. Rather, it has relied on unions and workers’ associations with very limited resources to perform this role. Furthermore, the regulation lacks teeth. The Comissão de Mediação e Arbitragem Laboral (Commission for Labor Mediation and Arbitration—COMAL) provides a cost-effective and comparatively quick extra-judicial process for mediating conflicts. However, if employers do not comply with decisions or, if an impasse is declared at the mediation stage, it is very difficult to hold them accountable. Labor court proceedings are slow and expensive. While public legal assistance is available for low-wage workers, in practice services are very uneven.
Mundlovo’s neighbor recruited Mundlovo to SINED shortly after it was formalized in 2008. Based in the suburb of Urbanização, SINED members initially met at the Sal do
Competing unions and fraudulent workers’ organizations have made some domestic workers skeptical of unions. “Some workers refuse to talk to us,” adds Luisa Nhabanga, SINED Executive Secretary. “It’s only when they have a problem that they come running. Frankly, I understand it. Since we started mobilizing publicly, recruitment has gotten easier because they see that we’re serious.”
Once you have become a member, you are given an ID card. The ID card also helps to legitimize the union. SINED members pay monthly dues equivalent to one percent of their salary. With no access to payrolls, the union relies on workers to report accurate wages. However, the dues structure creates an incentive for members to underreport their salaries. Also, with no ability to deduct dues automatically, SINED struggles to collect dues from its membership. “Some people sign up and then disappear,” remarks Camarada Francisco Sambo, SINED Secretary for International Relations. This poses challenges for the financial stability and sustainability of the union—a common challenge among workers’ organizations in general.
Members in good standing can access the union’s mediation services for free. Non-members are charged 15 percent of the settlement fee. SINED’s emphasis is on conciliation rather than confrontation. “No one wins if a domestic worker is dismissed,” explains Sambo. “So we first encourage workers to think about ways to de-escalate the situation by communicating with their employer on a one-on-one basis.” If this does not work, employers are summoned into the union. “We speak in a soft tone, we try to understand employer’s point of view, we try to remind both parties of the long history they’ve had together,” adds Sambo. As a result, only a small fraction of cases are forwarded to COMAL.
The final pillar of SINED’s work is mobilization. It relies heavily on worker leaders like Mundlovo to help organize actions. “You have to be an active member,” she argues. “We want to move this union forward, to expand from Rovuma to
1. Salary increases. “Low salaries are what kills us,” she says. Salaries range widely in
2. A less rigorous schedule. Mundlovo works an eight-hour day, but many of her colleagues far exceed the nine hours mandated by Decree 40/2008. As more and more women enter the labor force and public care facilities deteriorate, households increasingly rely on domestic workers to perform child care duties. One colleague, Mundlovo recalls, had to work until 9:00 PM because her employer, a single mother, was in night school and had no one to look after her child.
3. Breaks. “My patrão (male employer) tells me that I am entitled to a 30-minute break, but it’s impossible to take because of the intensity of work. If I’m able to, I rest in the corner for a few minutes because I get dizzy.... If I’m resting, my boss will come and order me around. He says one thing, but he does another.” Lunch breaks are particularly challenging because in many households domestic workers are not allowed to eat the same food as the employer. With no time to cook their own meals, many workers labor from early in the morning until late in the evening with no sustenance. “Even a telephone needs to be recharged,” asserts Mundlovo.
4. Paid time off. Though mandated by Decree 40/2008, Mundlovo has to negotiate paid sick days: “When I got sick, my employer allowed me to take time off to go to the hospital, but expected me to come back to work afterwards. He clearly didn’t treat me like I was sick. I did not challenge him directly. Instead I pretended that I’d gotten confused and gone straight home.”
Negotiating paid time off is particularly contentious for unexpected emergencies such as illness, funerals, or other family occasions. “Let’s say your father dies today, then in two weeks it’s another family member…the employer will refuse to let you go to the funeral. He’ll say, ‘How is it that in your family people are dying every day? Soon it will be you who will die’.”
5. Improvements in occupational health and safety conditions, adequate tools and compensation for workplace accidents. “I work meat and bones, absorbing toxic substances,” says Mundlovo. “When the patrão fumigates or paints the house they go on holiday, they stay in a hotel. But they expect that I should work. Then I get sick, have to go to hospital, and don’t have money to pay.” In addition to safety equipment such as masks and gloves, Mundlovo argues that domestic workers should be provided with the adequate tools to perform the necessary tasks.
For instance, her employer likes to have his clothes washed by hand. The apartment does have a clothes-washing tank, but it leaks. Despite numerous requests, her employer has not fixed it, so Mundlovo is forced to wash the clothes in plastic tubs. Hours of crouching down with cold water splashing on her feet have worsened a pre-existing health problem .
6. A written contract. Under Decree 40/2008, domestic workers have the right to a contract. However, the contract can be verbal in nature. During conflicts, a verbal contract has no standing, ultimately placing the burden of proof on the domestic worker. In this way, Decree 40/2008 does not account for the unequal power relationship between employer and employee. Domestic work is extremely precarious and workers are easily fired.
A signed contract, argues Mund- lovo, would clarify the terms of employment, formalize the employment relationship and outline disciplinary procedures.
The passage of Decree 40/2008 coincided with a global resurgence of interest in extending labor protections to this historically marginalized sector. A sustained campaign, led by domestic workers from around the globe, culminated in the 2011 adoption by the International Labor Organization (ILO) of Convention 189 (C189). In
Mundlovo recognizes that it will not be easy to secure improvements in working conditions. Ultimately, she argues, only domestic workers themselves can transform the employer/employee relationship.“They [employers] don’t have a problem with the way things are. We need to be strong, to fight peacefully. Victories require sacrifice. People died for May 1,” she says, referring to International Workers’ Day.
When the stress of negotiating working conditions overwhelms them, many domestic workers choose to leave their job. However, Mundlovo counsels against this. “You’re never guaranteed that your next employer will be better than your last so you set yourself up for a very unstable situation. I always say, you shouldn’t fear your employer, they are not animals, you should have respect, and demand respect.”
Mundlovo does not believe that the transformation of working conditions will take place overnight. Most employers still do not recognize domestic workers’ rights. While Mundlovo emphasizes the importance of open communication, she recognizes that employers have discretionary power to refuse to dialogue.
With experience, Mundlovo has been able to negotiate better working conditions by cultivating a good relationship with her employer and communicating one-on-one.
“Pick a day when you see that your employer is calm and explain your problem,” she recommends. “He’s likely to apologize…but if he tries to justify his actions, to elevate himself.... You need to be patient.”
Willing employers may promise improvements in working conditions, but in the absence of adequate state regulation, it is a choice rather than obligation and promises often go unfulfilled. Domestic workers walk a very thin line in demanding access to their rights and concerns over job security often win out in the “patience industry,” nonetheless, Mundlovo has hope that slowly, conditions will improve.
Ruth Castel-Branco is a Mozambican researcher and labor activist, currently based at the University of KwaZulu-Natal,
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
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ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
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BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
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LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
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VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
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ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
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CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
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NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
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MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
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GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
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LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
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IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
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CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
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ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
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LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
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LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
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WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
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SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
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WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
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VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: email@example.com; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.