Domestic Workers And Their Freedom of Thought, Conscience And Religion
The story of Joseph and Potipher paints a clear picture of Master-servant relationship. Given his relationship with Potipher, not only was he denied fair hearing but he was judged by his accuser (Genesis 39, Old Testament, The Holy Bible). Just like Joseph, many domestic workers in Nigeria are faced with uncertain working conditions and little to no social protection as a result of domestic work being considered a low status job. Employment benefits such as health insurance, maternity benefits or social pensions are usually absent from working arrangements. Along with the receipt of little or no pay, domestic workers (especially live-ins) have no clear division between work and private time with long working hours, limited rest and leisure time, and rare opportunities for days off. Additionally, they have heavy workloads, inadequate accommodation and food (for live-in workers), job insecurity, and exposure to violence, abuse and infringement on their human right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion in the workplace. In a trice, it would be made lucent that human rights, more particularly freedom of thought, conscience and religion are part of the common heritage of all mankind without discrimination on grounds of race, sex, religion, and association, etc.
In exordial, it is safe to state that domestic work is part of everyday life in Nigeria, with households employing a range of workers to carry out services, such as cooking, cleaning, caring for children, washing clothes, driving, gardening and security. Others hire a woman, who can do household chores and care for the children or a man who, in addition to domestic tasks, might also garden, guard and, in a few cases, drive. Some families employ domestic workers on a full-time basis, while others make do with part-time workers. Domestic workers represent a significant share of the labour force of the informal economy in the country. The 2007 National Bureau Statistics of Nigeria estimated domestic workers at 197,900, comprising 98,300 women and 99,600 men – although these numbers are likely underestimated. According to Zahrah Nesbitt-Ahmed, UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti in his online article available at (https://www.unicef-irc.org/article/1961-gender-paid-domestic-work-and-social-protection.html#:~:text=Domestic%20workers%20represent%20a%20significant,these%20numbers%20are%20likely%20underestimated),
“Around the world, the social significance and demand for paid domestic work has grown enormously – becoming an important source of employment for an estimated 70.1 million people globally, possibly up to 100 million as domestic work is often hidden and unregistered. Of that, between 4 and 10% of workers in the Global South are engaged in this form of employment, compared with between 1 and 2.5% in the Global North. Furthermore, in Africa it represents 1.4% of total employment and 4.9% of total paid employees. While domestic work is a highly feminised job, with women making up 70.2% of domestic workers, an increasing body of work also explores men in this occupation, including male migrant domestic workers performing domestic tasks traditionally associated with women in the household.
This increase in numbers of domestic workers is also due to changes in labour markets worldwide, resulting in a transition towards a service economy and the creation of an environment in which more casual and insecure work has been an integral part of women’s increased labour force participation. This is coupled with a declining public provisioning of care, women’s struggle to combine their paid work and unpaid domestic responsibilities, and men’s supposed unwillingness to increase their contribution to unpaid reproductive labour. To ease these burdens, middle and upper-class households have adopted the use of ‘commoditised care work’”.
Meanwhile, certain actions by employers are not in conformity with the fundamental rights to Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion of domestic workers, such as employer’s indiscriminate change of name against worker’s wish and duress/undue influence to belong to a particular faith or religion of the employer. In the case of NURSING AND MIDWIFERY COUNCIL OF NIGERIA V. ESTHER BOSE ADESINA (2016) LPELR-40610(CA) UGOCHUKWU ANTHONY OGAKWU, J.C.A quoted with approval the submission of E.A. Egbedi, Esq. counsel for the Respondent thus:
“Names are meant not only to identify. In Nigeria names are borne for a variety of reasons, some for ethnic, religious reasons as well as circumstances of birth. In the instant case where the reasons advanced for the change of the names are religious and marital, the names are interwoven with the fundamental rights to practice religion of her choice and not to be discriminated against on that account”
Although, the issue in the above-cited case was on the propriety or otherwise of complete change of name on religious and marital grounds which the court posited is connected to the fundamental rights to Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion; it flows therefrom that actions such as employer’s indiscriminate change of name against domestic worker’s wish and duress/undue influence on them to belong to a particular faith or religion of the employer runs afoul of the provisions of section 38(1) of the Constitution which guarantees Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion. Without mincing words, Per. Rhodes-Vivour J.C.A later (J.S.C) (Rtd.) in the case of Ukegbu v. N.B.C (2007) 14 NWLR (Pt. 1055) 551 at 578, paras. A – B (CA) had this to say on Constitutional guaranteed right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and to freedom of expression;
“By virtue of section 38(1) of the Constitution, every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance”
Also Per OGUNWUMIJU, J.C.A (now J.S.C) in OKAFOR & ORS v. NTOKA & ORS (2017) LPELR-42794(CA) (P. 27, Paras. A-C) reiterated thus:
“Section 38 By the provision of this section, every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance. While the Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as a state religion, every person has a right to practice his religion in Nigeria.”
Granted that most employers of domestic workers are nonplussed where demands are made to enjoy this right, and that the inability to speak up for fear of losing their jobs makes it much more difficult for domestic workers to demand for their rights, it is the ultimate focus of the writer that this article will serve the purpose of sanctioning the realization that Courts guard fundamental rights provisions very jealously and that any law or action that is perpetrated against the provisions of the fundamental rights of any individual which is against the spirit of the Constitution would not be allowed to stand. The Courts ensure that the spirit of the Constitution is upheld at all times, the fundamental rights of the citizen which are immutable and inalienable can neither be subsumed nor swept aside.
Further, Section 42 (1) of the 1999 Constitution which guarantees the right to freedom from discrimination further infuses section 38 (1) with life by providing that
(1) A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person-
(a) be subjected either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government, to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinion are not made subject; or
(b) be accorded either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any such executive or administrative action, any privilege or advantage that is not accorded to citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions.
In closing, the words of Per OGAKWU in NURSING AND MIDWIFERY COUNCIL OF NIGERIA V. ESTHER BOSE ADESINA(supra) sums it up thus;
The right to freedom of religion is one of the fundamental rights enshrined in Chapter IV of the 1999 Constitution. Fundamental Rights are rights which stand above the ordinary laws of the land. They are in fact antecedent to the political society itself. Fundamental rights have been described as the minimum living standard for civilised humanity. The fundamental rights have been enshrined in the Constitution so that the rights could be inalienable and immutable to the extent of the non-immutability of the Constitution itself. See RANSOME-KUTI vs. A-G FEDERATION (1985) 7 NWLR (PT 6) 211 at 229 – 231. …. A fundamental right is more significant than the rights under other statutes or laws as it goes to the root of the day to day existence of the citizen and corporate living of the citizens: ESSIEN vs. INYANG (2011) LPELR (4125) 1 at 24. The Courts are under a duty as provided by the Constitution to see that executive and administrative actions are in conformity with the fundamental rights of persons. See OBAYIUWANA vs. MINISTER OF FCT (2009) LPELR (8202) 1 at 26.
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