New York nannies battle for rights

The BBC’s Laura Trevelyan reports from Manhattan on the potential impact of a proposed bill of rights for the estimated 200,000 nannies, housekeepers and care workers in New York state who are currently exempt from most US employment law. Here are some excerpts. The link below will take you to the original report and BBC video.

For 17 years, Barbara Young from Barbados has worked as a nanny in New York, arriving at 0700 to care for the children of high-flying parents, often working through the night to care for newborn babies.

Because domestic workers are specifically excluded from the National Labor Relations Act of the 1930s, nannies operate in the shadows, their pay and conditions determined by their employers.

Ms Young has had to endure a lot over the years. She told me how one employer paid her the bare minimum for her daily nannying work, and then expected her to sleep in a room with an infant, and feed that baby overnight, all for no extra pay. “Because you work in the home, people don’t see you as an employee. It’s seen as women’s work, not proper work,” says Ms Young. “We’re on the streets, in the parks, the libraries and the after-school programmes, yet people don’t notice these are workers. We need a change in this industry.”

Ms Young has joined Domestic Workers United, an organisation of Caribbean, Latina and African nannies and caregivers who are backing the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights which they hope New York state lawmakers will soon adopt. The bill has been approved by the state Assembly, and needs to get through the Senate.

Ms Young believes the bill would make a huge difference to her.

“It would require notice of termination, paid sick leave, paid holidays, the right to a day off, and it would recognise domestic work as real work.” The bill would also give nannies the right to organise collectively. It won’t specify an hourly wage.

. . .

After years of working long hours for low pay, Barbara Young feels it’s time for New York’s invisible workforce to become more prominent. “We keep the economy going… working for the higher echelons, the doctors, the lawyers, and people on Wall Street,” she says. “This bill would give us a better opportunity and it would give me rights.”

California lawmakers are watching the progress of this bill closely, and lobbyists for domestic workers say that will be the next state to introduce this measure. In June in Geneva, the International Labour Organization will host a meeting at which work will begin on an international convention for domestic workers’ rights.

This is an issue whose time has come.

For the full article and video go to http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8590335.stm

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