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One of the toughest times of my life

Last update - Tuesday, July 1, 2014, 11:28 By Mariaam Bhatti

  When I look back, knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t have let anyone treat me like I had no brain of my own.

I wouldn’t let them violate my dignity and my rights as a human and a worker like I did when I was frogmarched out of my workplace and embarrassed in front of my colleagues over something as small as some dishwashing liquid.

As it was common for the restaurant to order things in bulk, sometimes when we ran out of items we needed, such as dishwashing liquid, and there were times we had to wait for up to a week or more before an order was made and the goods eventually delivered. At such times we were advised to dissolve washing powder in warm water and do the dishes. As long as we rinsed the plates well, this was better than letting the ‘money making’ grind to a halt because there were no clean utensils or cutlery. And it seemed fine to our employers when it suited them.

So on this day, when the owner of the restaurant and my former employer ordered me to take off my apron, walk out of the door and never come back, I didn’t have had the courage or knowledge to ask her why or challenge that unfair dismissal. I now know that it was not a dismissible ‘offence’ but on that day I merely did as I was told. I walked through the door, kept walking with no specific direction in mind, and I did not try to look back. 

My not looking back was not because she had ordered me to do so, but it was because there was a stone sitting in my throat, as the saying goes, and my tears were flowing like the River Nile, my face as warm as if it had been steamed. I had so much anger in me.

I did not understand what I had done wrong, but I knew even then that I hated to be humiliated like that in front of my colleagues. I also, childishly, hated that I was never going to see them again, or at least work in the same space as them. But I had other worries; I had just rented a place of my own and I had no idea how I was going to continue paying for it if I did not get a job within weeks. 

I eventually landed what I would have called a good job those days as a ‘toll gate’ cashier three months later, but those three months between jobs was one of the toughest times of my life. I spent every single weekday of that month walking the entire town looking for work, in and out of retail and office doors. I would leave my place at 8am and return home at 4pm as if I was working. From that experience, when people say job-seeking can be a full-time job, I know very well what they are talking about.

I had the determination; I followed up on CVs and application letters even after getting rejected. I knew I had neither food at home nor money for rent, but I had my feet to carry my hungry body, and my mouth to keep asking if there were any vacancies since I last spoke to them, whether a week or even a day before.

I wish I could say these things only happen in far off places abroad, but sadly in Ireland I still hear of similar treatment of workers.


Mariaam Bhatti is a member of the Domestic Workers Action Group and Forced Labour Action Group of the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland.

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