Rwandans employed in the informal sector, mainly domestic workers and garbage collectors are facing the brunt of the new Covid-19 variant omicron as the nature of their work exposes them to infections.
Traditional housekeeping, which includes cleaning, cooking and laundry is a privilege of the rich who employ one or more persons to perform these tasks. Other responsibilities are also taking care of childcare if both parents have a full-time job and no grandparents are available.
Yet, with the covid-19 pandemic, domestic workers have become more important as many people moved to work from home.
Others are forced to stay home because they tested positive. This puts domestic workers in a precarious situation because in some cases they are caregivers in homes including those who are self isolating after testing positive.
Unfortunately, due to the informal nature of their work, domestic workers are not considered frontline workers even when the work they do helps to keep those in the formal sector to do their work. As such, during the recent covid-19 vaccination campaigns, no special attention or priority was given to them.
And while vaccines are now accessible, some domestic workers remain unvaccinated because their employers have not given them a day off to go for the jab. However, the recently introduced vaccine mandates may force their employers to get them vaccinated. More measures are needed to ensure that all casual workers including domestic workers are fully vaccinated.
There is a need to revisit the issue of domestic workers' right to decent work conditions as their work remains undervalued and poorly regulated. Thus, in addition to being underpaid and overworked, many domestic workers remain socially and legally unprotected, partly because their work, mainly done by women, takes place behind closed doors, almost invisible to the outside world.
As such, many domestic workers live in a permanent situation of marked personal subordination. For instance, any family member may issue instructions at any moment.
For workers who do not live with their employer, multiplicity of households, informal work arrangements and opaque wage determination pose severe problems.
On the other hand, the work of employees who do live in the household of their employer tends to occur in an isolated, largely unregulated and private environment.
These workers are most susceptible to physical and sexual abuse, long working hours and deprivation. Because of the informal nature of domestic work, these problems remain.
It is important that the government considers revising the labour law to protect casual workers, in particular domestic workers as required by International Labour Organisation convention that protects the sights of domestic workers.
At the very least, there should be a formal mechanism that protects the rights of domestic workers resolve any grievance that may arise in the course of their work.