Meet on ILO Convention on domestic workers concludes

Thirty-year-old Asha (name changed), a domestic worker from Thrissur, used to work extremely long hours but get hardly two square meals a day. She was the target of abuse and violence. And there was nothing to look forward to, as she could barely save anything from her meagre income.

Today, after years of ill-treatment and negligence, she joins many like her in their journey to convince the governments to recognise them as workers having equal status with others in society. They call for ratifying and implementing the International Labour Organisation Convention 189 (C189) on Decent Work for Domestic Workers.

The adoption of the convention in June 2011 has been only the start of a journey for them. C189 will recognise them as workers, assuring them their basic rights and ensuring a minimum standard of treatment and protection from violence and abuse.

Now, the convention must get two ratifications for it to come to force. Sadly, till date, only Uruguay has ratified it and the Philippines is the only Asian country to express interest to do so.

The Sub-regional Consultation for the Recognition and Ratification of C189, which concluded here on Tuesday, was an effort to address the challenge on how to mobilise support among different sections of society for its ratification. In their effort to gain support, representatives from more than 60 countries participated in the consultation to facilitate and develop partnerships among civil society and those in the government.

Question of status

While efforts have been made in India to include domestic workers in national labour laws, these have not gained much attention as most often, domestic work is not seen as a form of labour as the workplace is always an employer’s home.

Sally Michael, coordinator of the National Domestic Movement, Kerala chapter, says it is necessary to create awareness of the need for ratification of the Convention as it the right of these workers, as any others, to have access to decent working conditions, equality of status and above all, recognition as workers.

In the South Asian region, migrants to West Asia are often semi- or low-skilled workers such as construction workers and female domestic workers, who are often denied minimum wages.

“Many of these workers are not recognised legally and have no social security. They have to labour in poor working conditions and face numerous problems. We had to organise street protests and awareness campaigns to promote the ratifications,” K. Velayudam, president of the National Trade Union Federation, Migrant Workers Front, Sri Lanka, said.

It is a call to all the States, employers and the general public to revise their views on domestic workers. It is call to the government to enact provisions that address the specific needs and concerns of these workers, Sr. Sally said.