ILO recognizes rights of domestic workers as comparable to rights of other workers

Domestic workers in Asia. (UCANews Photo)
Domestic workers in Asia. (UCANews Photo)

Domestic Workers have rights comparable to other workers


By Edwin C. Mercurio

TORONTO, CANADA -A workplace is defined by Ontario’s Workplace Health and Safety Act as “Any place in, on or near to where a worker works. A workplace could be a building, a mine, a construction site, an open field, a road, a forest or even a beach. The test is: Is the worker being directed and paid to be there, or to be near there? If the answer is “yes”, then it is a workplace.”

Two years ago, the International Labor Conference of the International Labor Organization (ILO) has defeated and overridden opposition from Bangladesh, India, Arab countries and employers to adopt a convention on the rights of domestic workers around the world.

Opponents to the measure tried to limit the document to a non-binding “recommendations.”However, support for the convention unexpectedly came from China, the Maldives, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

Sr. Jeanne Devos, a Catholic nun from India’s National Domestic Workers Movement (NDWM) called this “a major victory.” The NDWM has more than 3.5 million members.

“The decision showed that the international community has recognized domestic workers as people with rights comparable to other workers,” she said.

However she added “The official opposition to a convention showed the scale of problems facing workers and their advocates.”

In Canada, the problems faced by Live-in Caregivers (LCP), a federal program still needs to be addressed by the Canadian government. The LCP program, formerly known as Domestic Program is being criticized by many Filipino-Canadian organizations such as the Community Alliance for Social Justice (CASJ) and Church-based organizations for its many loopholes and lack of adequate protection for domestic workers coming mainly from the Philippines and Third World Countries.

A querry to the Workers Health and Safety Centre sent by this Munting Nayon writer about the Workplace Health and Safety protection of Live-in Caregivers revealed that LCP participants are not protected and are excluded from the provisions of the Occupational Health and Safety in the workplace.

The Workplace Health and Safety Act considered to be one of the best in the world by many needs to come clean in terms of defining caregivers as “Servants”.

The WHS booklet says: “The act does not apply to: work done by the owner or occupant, or a servant, in a private residence or on the connected land.”

LCP participants, however, should be aware that they can seek help and assistance for harassment involving repeated words or actions or a pattern of behaviours that are unwelcome, such as bullying, jokes, remarks or innuendos that demean, ridicule, intimidate or offend; repeated offensive or intimidating phone calls or e-mails; or inappropriate sexual touching, advances, suggestions or requests.” The fear of reprisals, though, and being dismissed are worrisome. The two to three years employment contract between employers and Live-in Caregivers, also expose LCP participants to employer abuse. Lawyers, interviewed by MN expressed the hope that the WHS provisions of the law should find a middle ground to adopt to the workplace situation affecting caregivers. “It is an irony,” they said, “that people who care for Canadians in their homes are not taken care of by the Canadian government in terms of their rights as workers and equal protection under the Workplace Health and Safety Act.

The ILO in its June 2-18, 2011 meeting in Geneva passed the new convention. The Geneva meeting was attended by more than 2,500 delegates from member countries, trade unions and employer’s confederations.

The Convention provides for freedom of association, fair terms of employment and decent working and living conditions, easy access to dispute settlement procedures, regulation of employment agencies and protection of migrant domestic workers.

Two major recommendations were adopted – one on decent work for domestic workers and the other on HIV/AIDS and the world of work.

Halimah Yacob, deputy secretary general of Singapore’s National Trades Union Congress hailed the conference’s decision saying it “is only the beginning of hard bargaining for the inclusion of substantive provisions to protect the rights of domestic workers.” She praised the defeat of the resolution for a recommendation.

On 16 June 2011, the ILO convention was adopted with 396 votes in favour and 16 against (and 63 abstentions).[4] All Gulf states voted in support, while abstentions were cast by (amongst others) the United Kingdom.[5]

The convention will enter into force 1 year after ratification by two countries meaning that by last year or June of 2012, it took effect which is a standard entry into force condition for ILO conventions. Ratifications are to be communicated to the Secretary-general of ILO.

“On 26 April 2012, the Uruguay parliament approved as the first country ratification the convention,[6] followed by presidential assent on 30 April 2012[7] and deposit of its instrument of ratification in June 2012[1]”

Last August 6, 2012, the Philippines became the second country to ratify the convention. The convention was signed by President Aquino on 18 May 2012 and ratified by the Philippines Senate on 6 August 2012.[2] Mauritius ratified the convention in September 2012.(Sources: ILO, Ucandews)

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