The situation with the Bangladeshi workers in Seychelles this week reaffirmed a thought which has been on my mind for a while. Just in case you’re not in Seychelles, allegations of foreign workers not getting paid and living in poor conditions have made headlines – and it’s not the first time. Someone from a human rights organization who was interviewed in a TV report on the matter shockingly informed us that this is a common situation. Yes, the minute I heard of it, I jumped on the WTF bandwagon with the rest of the Facebook population.
Back to my thought. We classify people. We all do it. Racial classification is perhaps most publicly discussed but in my opinion, wealth classification is just as bad, if not worse. The discrepancy in salaries in Seychelles is shocking. Yes, we use economic jargons to explain why someone earns SR150,000 a month and others, well, they will never know a 5-figure salary in this lifetime. Yes yes, we have all heard or even been part of the reasoning; The person’s experience, the school they went to, the content of their CV and then there’s the company – its value, its this and that. I get it all. I mean I do, I really get it. I am not trying to belittle all this because I actually understand how it works. But my problem though is I also get what it is to be a human being, right now in 2019. When a salary discussion is on the table, the first and bottom figure which should be put on the table is the human salary irrespective of what the job is. I know that we will say we have it here. There is a name for it – basic salary is it? But is it human? Does it allow someone to live with dignity? Does it allow someone to save and have their own home? Does it allow someone to plan a holiday for their family beyond Mauritius? Does it allow for someone to be able to visit Aldabra once in their lifetime, if they so wish? Does it allow them to send their child to university of they don’t make the cut for a scholarship?
In 2009 I hired a nanny to look after my son from 9 to 3 from Monday to Friday. Her place of work was my mother’s house and her job was only to look after the child. I paid her SR5000. She lasted 9 months and in my confusion as to what went wrong I sought the advice of some mothers I knew who had helpers at home. One person jokingly told me off telling me I was spoiling this person with that salary and that for the same money she had a helper for 6 days a week who also cooked and cleaned. Right. I never got over the word spoiled. How on earth could SR5000 spoil someone? How could anyone view it like that? But I understood quickly where it came from. We classify helpers, housekeepers and nannies – we do not see them as our equals. Yes, I would say with certainty that I am today, intellectually smarter than my housekeeper. But, should that automatically define the kind of life she should live, and mine for that matter? The spoiled comment comes from a belief that my ex-nanny deserved a certain kind of life and the SR5000 was more than enough for it. What could she possibly need more for?
I have no doubt in my mind that this treatment is one of the reasons we now have a catastrophic labour situation with such jobs. Yes, I say catastrophic because an influx of foreign workers on a small island like ours has an impact on our culture, our infrastructure, our foreign exchange – everything. In case anyone has missed it, we prove on daily basis that we fly our xenophobic flag very proudly. If we are not careful with that, it is a situation which could escalate rapidly given that many of us are first and second generation Seychellois and the resentment could lead to some seriously undesirable situations.
I know that we do not understand the full impact of such discrepancies in remuneration. I don’t either by the way, in case it sounded like I am an expert on this. But it does get a little clearer to me every day. How can we expect someone who barely makes ends meet to care about plastic waste? Do we actually think they will spend hundreds of rupees on soap shampoo? If you do not know whether you can afford your kids’ uniforms for the next school year, are you actually going to spend your energy picking a fight with a shopkeeper over a plastic straw? In my job, I advocate for a non-corrupt Seychelles, but should I be surprised that a good chunk of our population just doesn’t care? It is not lost on me that many people are able to put food on their table (and I am not talking about caviar and chardonnays here) because of corrupt practices which they are, through no conscious decision of their own, simply part of.
We cannot pay people like shit and call them out on shitty behavior. You cannot think of someone as inferior and less deserving of what life has to offer and yet expect them to help save this unjust and unfair world along with privileged you.
I am sure if we saw the guy next to us as the same as us, we could slowly change things around.
I know that many will laugh at this. So many of us have lived lives which have formulated opinions of ‘what’ we are and ‘what’ others are. It’s not even malicious or selfish – it just is.
But just is, is going to be the end of us. Of that, I am certain. I know that the world cannot continue in the same way it is today. It just can’t.
I saw an infographic FB post this week which illustrated the difference between a businessman and an entrepreneur. The businessman doubled his investment and the entrepreneur well, multiplied it several times over. I thought to myself, if someone is an entrepreneur, (and some people just are, they have that money making bone in them – and no, I am not talking about trust fund, privileged babies here), who are we, who am I to say that they do not deserve the money they make and the luxury life that comes with it. They worked for it, sacrificed for it. But I think the most important question is one that needs to be answered by the entrepreneur him/herself. Yes, you will secure wealth four your child and possibly grand-child and then what? What will your money or land or other assets be worth when you are highly likely to get attacked the minute you step out of your homes? When the beach is not a safe place to go to? When you need a permanent bodyguard, even when you go to buy a coke in a shop? When you constantly fear that your child might get kidnapped?
You cannot protect YOUR next generation’s future without protecting the entire generation’s future. Yes, I have said it too, more often than I probably should have – why should I care when I work hard and others don’t. But when I take a closer look at those who don’t, I realise I have a hell of a lot more going for me than them – and no, it’s not always because they are lazy or on drugs. A bigger chunk of it is because they come from families who other families and the salary polices in this country decided deserved less. Well, they turned out to have less ambition, less regards for others and less so many other things. Should we really be shocked. Please. Let’s get over our hypocritical shock.
One day, survival is not going to be about the latest iphone or whatever other gadget we build from the metals the 6-year old child who dig the mines and wetlands in parts of Africa discovers. One day survival is going to go back to what our lands and our seas can provide for us. Food really. It is beneficial for all of us, rich and poor, to start nurturing a nation who will queue up, nicely for their daily bread rather than taking out their knives.
Humans. We are all humans. The sooner we treat each other this way, the sooner we stand a chance of being around on this earth, as we know it, a little longer.