Among the general population, there are people who are deemed “invisible” but still hold a crucial role as teachers and mothers to other people’s children. On Thursday, October 21st, light was shed on an issue that is unfortunately often overshadowed.
“In Our Care,” a documentary produced and directed by Selena Rhine, focused on domestic workers who struggle to fight for their rights as nannies and caretakers, while also caring for the well-being of their own families.
“My intent is always to take themes and portray how they affect people. Sometimes there are things that affect us, but we just don’t notice them very often,” stated Rhine.
In her filming, she worked with Domestic Workers United (DWU), which was founded in 2000. According to its website, the organization works to fight for “power, respect, fair labor standards,” and a way to expose the oppression that they face as domestic workers.
Before 2009, the group would hold a nanny training course once a year that educated women on exactly that, but now, with its popularity, the course is held twice a year.
Many of the women in the film were from different backgrounds; Haiti, Trinidad, Mexico, and Guatemala were only a few of the countries that were named. Maria, who graduated from the nanny training course and whose last name was not disclosed, said in the documentary, “We come here in order to give the best life for our kids and families…unfortunately, it’s quite not like that.”
She and her co-workers discussed the lack of respect and the low wages that they are given by their employers, despite them having a huge influence in the children’s lives. Nannies take on a secondary parental role and kids sometimes listen and learn from them instead of their own parents.
“I thought it was a good depiction of a different kind of education because I have never had a nanny before. I liked how the documentary incorporated the idea that someone else—besides your mother or father–is taking a part in educating you and molding who you are,” said Erin Sullivan ‘14.
Rhine’s work also highlighted the disadvantage in lacking certain rights. A great number of domestic workers often work upwards of 10 hours per day, only to receive no health insurance or vacations. Also, they can be fired without recourse even after years of doing service.
Currently, there is no safety guarantee for workers. If a domestic worker were to suffer from an injury from work, they would not be able to receive disability and such benefits.
The nannies conversed about how their jobs forced them to leave their own home and children to care for another family. Their jobs were shown to financially support their family but they also can jeopardize their relationships with loved ones.
Allison, a nanny, stated, “There’s so much pain attached to this industry. The family always seems to separate [in order to] get a better future.” In one portion of the documentary, the nannies were seen leaving their young children at daycares, not because it was a desire but because it was a necessity.
Patricia Francois, a domestic worker featured in the film, also accompanied Rhine on Thursday. Francois was physically assaulted by her employer, but she stated that she now has a case against him with two law firms agreeing to represent her.
When asked about the impact of having to sever relationships with a child because the employer deems it necessary, Francois answered, “Everybody’s life changes, and it’s so heartbreaking…It’s like walking away from your own child.”
Rhines, as an answer to a question about her future filming plans, said that she hopes to elaborate on the issue that “In Our Care” had discussed by getting the perspective of the employers and the children that the nannies had to leave behind because of their jobs.
“The point of view was interesting and shed a different light on the subject. I didn’t realize how serious the topic was. The fact that this is an ongoing struggle is upsetting, especially because it’s not getting much attention,” Amanda Perfetti ’14 commented.
However, recently, the efforts of DWU are finally being recognized. On August 31st, 2010, Governor David Paterson of New York signed off on a Domestic Workers’ Rights bill, which is set to provide more than 270,000 domestic workers with greater rights and protection in their employment.
The bill goes into effect on November 29, 2010 and mandates that workers would receive protection against sexual harassment and discrimination because of race, guarantees pay for overtime, and three days of paid leave every year. Other states, like California, are expected to follow New York’s lead in the near future.