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The changing face of house managers

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While many seek employment opportunities, domestic work is considered a last resort due to its demanding nature. PHOTO/ SHUTTERSTOCK

Employers should focus on providing opportunities for education and job advancement, rather than confining their house managers to traditional stay-at-home positions.

The role of domestic workers is constantly evolving, depending on the terms and conditions of their work as well as their sheer commitment and industriousness to make something out of their life.
The challenges for many are grave, ranging from meagre wages, unreasonably brutal employers to being constantly subjected to disrespect, sometimes akin to slavery-like treatment.  
With the right training and support, domestic workers are a valuable addition to your household, providing essential services.

Domestic help varies from walk-ins, part-time to live-ins – the most common in this part of the world.
Many working parents usually rely on childcare support while they pursue employment to earn a living for their families.

Necessity or preferred job
While many seek employment opportunities, domestic work is considered a last resort due to its demanding nature and often low wages, a few willingly pursue it unless faced with serious financial hardships.
 As long as being a house help remains financially viable - providing a source of income - it will continue being sought after as long as there is demand for such services. This perhaps explains why the household service industry is rapidly growing and evolving with a new era of professionalisation.

 Ms Lilian Kiiza started working as a housemaid after finishing P.7. She did not think it would become her lifelong job at that point. Around three to four years into her job, her employer offered to support her education by providing half of the fees and scholastic materials.
 In return, she agreed to work full-time over the weekend and a few hours after school. She did that until she finished Senior Four, in second grade.
 After two years, she enrolled in Advanced level while maintaining the same terms with her employers. She pursued a certificate programme in nursing and midwifery. After qualifying, she chose to work for three years with her employers. 
 She later moved to a wealthier family and was able to get a professional fee because of her training as a nurse. Now, she dreams of opening up an institute that can teach professional skills to those that want to do domestic work. 

 A house help provides a variety of domestic services such as babysitting, cooking, gardening, and eldercare among others. Most employers focus on quality services and safety at home. 
 Unlike in the past, the future of service provision is trending toward professional, well-trained domestic workers.
 Ms Doreen Nyago’s case is one of the many where income generated from domestic work and related favours paves way to another life long-held ambition. In this particular case, Ms Nyago was in this business by default but wriggled her way into another professional life thanks to her job and the emerging trend.  

For Nyago, housekeeping is all she has done since the age of 13.
 “After my Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE), I couldn’t continue with school because I had to help my ailing mother,” Ms Nyago recounts.
  “We were poor and I decided to look for a job to help my sickly mother. So, I did many odd jobs including fetching and selling water to earn an income. This wasn’t bringing in enough income to sustain the family. So, I got a job as a house help with an Indian family,” she narrates.

  “I got paid Shs1,000 daily for housekeeping and I spent some of it for feeding the family. I  would keep aside some little saving which helped to re-kick-start my journey to school. I managed to push up to Senior Three which was far from my dream – graduating from university,” she explains.
 Some stroke of luck was obvious as the family that employed her as a house help assisted her to pursue her studies. But shortly thereafter, the couple divorced and this shook her dream.

 Fortunately, she still had another job. And the bosses there gave her a chance to continue with her education. Eventually, she attained the Uganda Certificate of Examination (UCE).
 After five years of working multiple jobs, she attained the Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education (UACE). She learned about an opportunity from a friend’s WhatsApp message, which led to her being awarded a scholarship from the MasterCard Foundation Scholars Programme to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Record and Archives Management where she graduated on January 31, this year.
 “January 31 2024, will always be in mind,” she said, almost sobbing, “I am not only an intern at the MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program at Makerere, but also an entrepreneur.”
This speaks to the fact that house help work can pave your way to greater things you always needed in life. It could be painstaking, but will lead you there.”  

A woman washes clothes. Unlike in the past, the future of service provision is trending toward professional, well-trained domestic workers. PHOTO/Michael Kakumirizi  

Changing the narrative
 Nyago suggests that the house management industry has growth potential and could be professionalized for further economic development. The term ‘housemaid’ can be demotivating for domestic workers. House helps want to be treated as part of the family to properly manage homes and care for children when parents or guardians are absent. They play a vital role as caregivers and surrogate parents.

Ms Nyago notes that some domestic workers have ruined the status of domestic work due to cultural differences and a lack of experience. 
“They need parental guidance and counseling to fit in. Low pay is one of the reasons why domestic workers are exported, but if the industry could provide better wages, it could reduce the number of workers fleeing the country,” she explains.
 Others note that perhaps it is a generational, not maids’ issue/problem.
Ms Kristen Kwagala, an entrepreneur and mother of four, says these days, even the girls from the village have to be taught how to cook. 
 “Each household is unique and requires specific training for its assistants. While it is the employer’s responsibility to build a good relationship with them, there is no formula for treating domestic workers,”  Kwagala says, urging employers to be mindful of this when working with domestic staff.

Retaining domestic workers
 Reverend Canon Diana Nkesiga, of Kampala Diocese who also serves as the director of Phumla Retreat Centre, suggests that the term “housemaid” is outdated and proposes “house manager” instead.
She believes that domestic workers should have opportunities for education and job advancement and should be treated with respect, given fair pay, and allowed days off.
 “We should not expect house managers to remain unmarried forever, and they should be allowed to better themselves with contracts, respect, fair pay, and days off,” Reverend Nkesiga says. 

Canon Nkesiga believes that a change in mindset is necessary for domestic workers and employers. Employers should focus on providing opportunities for education and job advancement, rather than confining their house managers to traditional stay-at-home positions.

This will allow them to support their children and provide them with the resources they need to thrive.
Canon Nkesiga encourages children to participate in household activities to avoid creating dependency. Furthermore, proper instructions are essential to avoid having a detrimental impact on future generations. House managers can retain employees by creating a pleasant working atmosphere. This is possible by reviewing their work plans every six months, employers can ensure that they are still on the same page and help their house managers pursue their dreams and goals.

The potential industry
The home assistant market is gaining momentum, and companies like Bezalel’s Home Assistants are expected to grow by constantly innovating and maintaining high-quality standards. Labour export companies are also benefiting from this trend by providing house managers or home assistants to clients, along with training in a variety of skills such as first aid, hygiene, work ethics, home cleaning, electronic operations, childcare, communication etiquette, cooking local dishes, fire safety, and more. This innovative approach is poised to change the dynamics of the domestic service industry.

 Ms Esther Muthoni, a personal assistant at Bazelel’z Home Assistants, says clients who are interested in their services pay a fee of Shs250,000 which caters for finding the match that fits clientelles’ taste and preference, training and skilling house helps, test for HIV and pregnancy among others. 
“With all the training, we expect clients or employers to pay house assistants a minimum wage of Shs200,000. This is because most of the girls we get come from disadvantaged backgrounds and families; most of them young or single mothers. These have responsibilities; a reason for a minimum wage is required for house helps,” Muthoni explains.

This, she says, is aimed at professionalising domestic workers.
 Despite the growing demand for professional house assistants, the supply is still low.

Minimum wage 
Arnette Akello, chief executive officer of Bazelel’z Home Assistants, suggests a minimum wage of Sh300,000 for domestic workers to motivate them to work like any other employee. 
She believes that globalisation and technology have changed the industry and made workers more aware of their rights and other opportunities. 

“African domestic workers are in high demand globally due to their hard work. However, the lack of policies and rights in foreign countries has led to increased mistreatment and loss of lives,” Ms Akello says.

She adds that professionalising the industry and implementing policies and rights to protect workers will reduce unemployment and contribute to the country’s Gross Domestic Product.