Protecting Migrant Domestic Workers

ilo-migrant-domestic-workers-coverThis report is published by the International Labor Organization (ILO) through its Global Action Programme on Migrant Domestic Workers and Their Families.

From the Summary: Worldwide, an estimated 67 million people over the age of 15 are domestic workers. Of those, 83 per cent are women. Among the world’s domestic workers, many millions have migrated from their homes to another country for work. Due to the fact that domestic work is carried out in the employer’s house and to the nature of the tasks performed, it is often associated with women’s unpaid work. Most domestic work remains informal, performed outside of labour and social protection regulations. Non-compliance is decreasing but still high. Domestic work remains one of the least protected sectors under national labour laws and it suffers from particularly poor monitoring and implementation of existing laws.1 Migrant domestic workers (MDWs) are even less protected by the law. Migrant domestic workers are vulnerable to human rights abuses, due to inequalities determined by gender, race, ethnicity, national origin and social status.

You can download the entire report here.

Click here to see more information on the Global Action Programme and to view other reports.

Progress for Domestic Workers, But More Needed

In the five years since the International Labour Organization adopted Convention 189 on Domestic Workers, governments in nearly 50 countries have updated their legislation to provide better employment protection for domestic workers, and 22 countries have already ratified the Convention.

An estimated 15 million workers now have improved rights and protections at work, included the right to at least one day off per week, doubling or even tripling of the applicable minimum wage as well as access to social protection. Dozens of new unions for domestic workers have been formed since 2011, with a total membership of some 100,000.

Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, said: “The success of the campaign for domestic workers’ rights so far has been founded on an effective combination of organising and mobilising with action to achieve legislative change and the setting of the new global standard at the ILO. There remains much to be done, but the power of domestic workers is here to stay.”

Madagascar, Senegal and Spain are expected to join the list of countries which have ratified the ILO Convention, with Oman planning to extend rights and protections. Similar steps are expected in Bahrain, a country not usually noted for respecting workers’ rights. Draft domestic workers’ laws have been developed in India and Indonesia, and alliances of domestic workers, their unions and other allies are pressing for adoption of these laws by 2018.

The ITUC’s 12 + 12 campaign and the International Domestic Workers’ Federation have been driving forces for the campaign internationally, with national coalitions pushing successfully for legal reform and the organisation of domestic workers.

“There are over 67 million domestic workers in the world, the vast majority of them women. More than 11 million are migrant workers. Outside the official figures, some 17 million children are believed to be trapped in domestic work, many in conditions of forced labour. Clearly there is a huge amount to do, but we are now working from solid foundations, with domestic workers themselves increasingly taking the lead. We call upon all governments to ratify ILO Convention 189, and to bring in the legal and other protections that these workers need and deserve,” said Burrow.

See the Domestic Workers’ page

For more information, see the ITUC/IDWF/ILO publication “Domestic Workers Unite

Article from International Trade Union Confederation 

Asia’s domestic workers: threatened, assaulted, trapped

by Bex Wright

Hong Kong (CNN) “The first time she hit me was pay day; she told me to sign my name on a piece of paper, but I asked, ‘why should I sign when you didn’t give me the money?’ Then, she hit me.”

A 30-year-old Indonesian domestic worker, who now calls herself Susi, describes the start of the abuse cycle which shaped her life for nearly a year.

She was threatened, assaulted and trapped in the house of her employer in Hong Kong, Law Wan-tung, after being placed in the job by an employment agent.

“She only allowed me to sleep from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.; every day was only four hours of sleep,” Susi said. “I was only allowed to use the bathroom three times a day. She didn’t allow me to have a day off. Nothing was allowed.”

Stories of suffering

Susi’s story is just one example of the physical and mental abuse foreign domestic workers say they face in Asia and the Middle East.

A photography exhibition currently on display at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club in Hong Kong aims to expose the extent of that suffering.

One victim, an Indonesian grandmother named Sumasri, had been doused in boiling water by her employer in Malaysia, leaving painful scars on her back and legs. Another, Sritak, is covered in dozens of scars, including one from a searing hot fork that was pressed into her skin by her boss in Taiwan.

[To view the slideshow “Asia’s abused maids tell their stories”, featuring the photographs and experiences of seven such survivors of abuse, as well as related videos, click the link to the original article at bottom.]

The pictures were taken by award-winning photographer, Steve McCurry, and the project was organized by the United Nations agency, the International Labor Organization (ILO).

The ILO estimates that there are more than 52 million domestic workers worldwide. But activists say that in many countries, especially in Asia, they have no legal protection.

Death threats

Susi, whose real name is Tutik Lestari Ningish, said her situation got worse when her employer started threatening to kill her family in Indonesia.

“She would say: ‘If you ever talk back, or try to leave, I could kill you and your family, because I’m very resourceful.’ That’s why I was terrified. I endured her beatings, but hoped that she wouldn’t beat me to death, because I have a son who’s very young.”

“That was my first time working in Hong Kong; I knew nothing; I didn’t even know how to make a phone call. I hated her so much, but I didn’t know how to stand up for myself,” she said.

Escape route

Eventually, Susi managed to escape after her family in Indonesia demanded to know what happened to their daughter, as they had not heard from her for so long.

Still, Susi did not report the case to the authorities, in case Law followed through on her threats.

But then Susi heard that another domestic worker, Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, had ended up in hospital after suffering more than seven months of abuse at the hands of Law.

“I immediately made up my mind to speak up, because if I didn’t, then the next person would be mistreated by her too. Even though I was afraid, I could talk about my experience. I don’t want anyone to go through what I have been through.”

Susi and Erwiana successfully testified against Law who was found guilty of 18 charges including grievous bodily harm, false imprisonment and criminal intimidation.

She was jailed for six years.

‘Like slaves’

“In some places, they earn as little as $9 a month. In others, they don’t earn any salaries at all, so they are really like slaves,” said Elizabeth Tang, General Secretary of the International Domestic Workers Federation.

Tang says attitudes won’t change until workers’ legal rights improve.

“It is time governments step in and take the lead to change the law, so that they are treated the same as any other workers,” she said.

Journalist Karen Emmons, who produced the exhibit, said she was moved to start the project documenting the abuse because she was hearing similar stories year after year.

“I wanted to show the evidence of the abuse that’s going on in the privacy of homes,” she said.

“I wanted their stories and the abuse they had endured to reach out to people who can make a difference, and reach out to employers to tell them somebody is watching; we know what’s going on.”

from CNN (