wage negotiation

14Mar12

In the pilots, an issue that came up for the women was wage negotiation, which was one of the first topics I had thought of for these deliberative dialogues. But the challenges these women faced when we started speaking about wages was so unexpected, that any solutions or methods I had originally formulated just went out the window. Many of the women in that group had been working as domestic workers for several years, but had been told by their employer that if they ever asked for a raise, they could leave. The employer would find another domestic worker. How does one negotiate their wage in that scenario? This is where the responsiveness and collaboration of all participants is necessary, and why the unstructured-ness of the dialogues was essential. In essence, the way we planned the dialogues was to anticipate that there would be many situations where we as facilitators and coordinators would not have the answers, and we would need to be flexible and open to what the entire group had to offer to address the challenge.

As one of them said, “I have been working there for 3 years. I need to ask for a raise, because I will not respect myself if I don’t.”

Brinda asked, “How will you find the courage to ask for a raise when you are threatened with being fired?”

She replied, “I will find the courage if I know I can trust this group, and if I can trust that no one in this room will take my job if I am fired. If I know everyone in this room supports me, I will risk being fired to go ask for a raise.”

When I heard this, I wondered what difference that would make as there are probably hundreds of thousands of domestic workers across the city ready to replace her. What we as outsiders may not know is how the informal systems play out within particular sub-cultures. This group of women cannot force a completely new domestic worker not to take the job, but they can communicate with her, letting her know why the previous domestic worker had been fired. If she still insisted on taking the job, it would be with the knowledge that she would not have the support of this community of domestic workers if the employer acted unfairly or abusively towards her.

Therefore, the group arrived at their own strategy for addressing the problem that worked for them and was specific to their culture and situation. It is not perfect, and nothing will be easy given their circumstances. However they learn that there are methods for dealing with these imbalanced power dynamics, and they learn where their power lies. These dialogues cannot “solve” poverty or domestic violence, but we can teach them to look to themselves and each other for options and alternatives to these seemingly overwhelming issues.

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