The Ministry of Social Protection’s move to bar security companies from putting single mothers to work night shifts has been described as a “cheap and nasty suggestion” that will create problems, according to Red Thread coordinator Karen de Souza, who pointed out that firms might send the mothers home or refrain from hiring them as a result.
A press release from the office of Minister within the Ministry of Social Protection Keith Scott, who has direct responsibility for labour, said that the ministry has no intention of relenting on its agenda to “minimise in the first instance and eventually eliminate night work for single mothers within the Private Security Industry.”
The release said that Scott first made this announcement on August 24 and in pursuit of his “noble idea” to take immediate effect he will request his colleagues and other senior government functionaries to “take all feasible steps to give efficacy to the initiative.” They are asked to ensure immediately that the contracts for the provisions of private security services provide for the exclusion of single mothers from night work.
However, the release said that whatever policies are developed and implemented, it should not deter single mothers who may elect to work at nights. “In other words, they should not be structurally compelled to do night work,” the release said, while adding that Scott wanted to assure all interested stakeholders that the proposal is merely intended to “promote the interest and safety of the family unit.”
“Being mindful of the concerns raised by certain sections of the wider society, the ministry remains confident that the feminist organisations would find favour with the elimination of Night Work by single mothers [which] would go a far way in repairing the moral fabric of our society which is seriously negatively affected,” the release added.
Stabroek News was unable to get a comment from security firms but at least two female security guards whom this newspaper spoke with said that while they would be happy to stay at home with their children in the night, they are more concerned about how the security firms will react.
They pointed out that securing a job is more important than the shifts they are forced to work.
For de Souza, it is unfortunate that Scott would move briskly on what “appears on the surface to be something friendly to women, which for me is a cheap and nasty way to go about it.”
She pointed out that there are a number of issues that have to be examined as it relates to single mothers and their abilities to raise their children and one of these is the availability of work for women, young people and men.
She also said that attention has to be placed on the education system as it relates to equipping working-class children to get decent employment as well as to the salaries and wages that are being paid.
“Mr. Scott is leaping to put the burden on security firms [and while] there are many criticisms that can be made of security firms… I think in the first instance if you are a Minister of Government you should first look at the efforts you yourself can make and we can point directly to sweeper cleaners who are cleaning the schools,” de Souza said.
For years, women who sweep and clean the schools have been appealing to successive administrations to pay them a decent living wage and more recently they took to the street in front of the Ministry of Education to make their case.
de Souza pointed out that the sweeper cleaners’ case is a labour issue and one that the government can control but instead those workers are still disadvantaged and discriminated against in terms of their working rights.
Turning to the point that the minister made about improving the moral fabric of society, de Souza said she does not understand why women have to carry the burden of the moral fabric of society.
“We need to look at all the various ways, from the top to the bottom, the leaders—whether they are political leaders, religious leaders, professional, institutional leaders—the ways in which they are all destroying and contributing to the destruction the moral fabric of society,” she said.
de Souza said the single mothers need support, work and more services.
She questioned where are the day care services, while noting that the manifesto of the present coalition government spoke about making provisions for children whose parents are out at work.
“As far as I am aware, there has not been a single, not one single new day care facility put in place,” she noted, while pointing out that instead there has been pressure placed on nursery care arrangements and some of the more informal child care arrangements.
While regulation is necessary, de Souza said the government should train and support persons who are trying to take care of kids and earn some money.
She said the authorities want to be punitive without organising the necessary infrastructure to encourage people to be more sensible, caring and to make safer arrangements for the benefit for the entire society.