Committee on Domestic Workers: Ms MOORE (Worker, Barbados; speaking on behalf of the Worker Vice-Chairperson of the Committee on Domestic Workers)

Statement | Genève | 16 June 2011

I would like to begin by reiterating, on behalf of the Workers’ group, our very special thanks to all those who made it possible for us to be present here today, at what will be remembered as a historic landmark moment in the work of this House, and in the lives of domestic workers throughout the world.

In particular, we wish to have recorded our special thanks to our Chairperson who, with tremendous competence and well-placed humour, led our Committee’s work at this 100th Session of the International Labour Conference to its completion. We also wish to express our thanks to the Governments, Employers and the staff of the ILO for ensuring that we can propose for adoption instruments that make us all proud of our hard work during the past two years. To our interpreters, technicians,researchers, we thank you all.

In the first discussion of this agenda item during the 99th Session, the Employers’ group fought against what the Workers’ group and many Governments supported, a Convention supported by a Recommendation.

This year, under the exceptional leadership of Mr Paul Mackay and the secretariat of the Employers’group, it was evident that their stated commitment to pragmatism and realism also led them to accept that domestic workers have, until now, remained invisible and generally unprotected.

On a personal note, I wish to commend our Vice-Chair, Ms Halimah Yacob, who has provided outstanding leadership for the Workers’ group over the last two years. She had to leave early to fulfil a family obligation, but today I feel honoured that Ms Yacob, the secretariat of the Workers’ group and, of course, my Committee colleagues have asked me to present this work on their behalf.

Recalling the start of our discussions on the Report entitled Decent work for domestic workers, there was widespread consensus that such a discussion was long overdue, since the call for a standard to protect domestic workers had been issued as far back as 1965.

Also evident to us was the fact that our task was not going to be easy and that the discussion before us would be very complex and had the potential to be highly emotive.

Those assessments were all accurate. However, we can be proud that, as a result of constructive dialogue, determined work and a strong spirit of cooperation,today we are all winners.

We are all winners because, with your adoption of this Report and positive vote for the instruments which are before us, we will have recognized our very important historic mission of making decent work for all not merely a slogan, but a truly inclusive agenda, including for domestic workers.

Also, given that women, and young women in particular, are the majority of domestic workers worldwide, we are happy that our work for the last two years aligns with the focus of this House to pursue enabling measures and proactive solutions to reduce the gender deficit.

The instruments before us are robust, practical and human and they hold tremendous potential for bringing domestic workers out of the shadows.

They give faces to these workers who have been invisible for so long, barely even counted in the statistics until recently and they provide for domestic workers to be streamlined into the Decent Work Agenda.

The Convention requests that member States take measures to promote the fundamental principles and rights at work. We have given particular attention to the application of the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No. 87), and the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949 (No. 98), as these are the enabling rights that set the stage for the achievement of other rights and improved conditions. Freedom of association and collective bargaining are fundamental for domestic workers’ stability in employment, and therefore provide progress out of poverty for their families. They will finally be entitled to the same kind of lives and livelihoods that are available to other workers and their families within our societies.

In terms of employment conditions, the proposed instruments provide for working time protection and the extension of minimum wage coverage to domestic workers where, within member States, such coverage exists. Provision is also made for rest periods and written employment contracts. In the case of migrant domestic workers, contracts should be issued before the worker leaves the country of recruitment to work in another country. However, it is important to recognize that this provision is qualified in a way that allows for freedom of movement where bilateral, regional or multilateral agreements are in place.

During our discussions, some concern was raised regarding the inclusion of an article that would protect domestic workers who are recruited and placed by private agencies against abusive practices. This concern was raised primarily against the backdrop of evidence that the Private Employment Agencies Convention, 1997 (No. 181), has not yet been widely ratified.

However, again through constructive dialogue, consensus was reached and we are happy with the resulting text which reflects language with which all three sides are comfortable.

The Convention affords domestic workers social protection by putting in place measures to preserve their safety and health. It recognizes that “each domestic worker is entitled to a safe and healthy working environment”. Provision is also made for millions of female domestic workers worldwide who, at present, are not entitled to maternity leave. Now they will benefit from the same provisions as other workers within their countries. Thus, the instruments provide for the social integration of domestic workers.

The Workers’ group is pleased that we have agreed on the inclusion of monitoring mechanisms through labour inspections. These provisions recognize the need to respect the privacy of households.

We were able during our discussions to cite many country examples where such labour inspection systems already exist, so as to help ensure that domestic workers are afforded their rights.

Throughout our discussions, we agreed with the Employers’ group and several Governments that, while the instruments had to be practical, we had also to avoid making the Convention too prescriptive.

With this in mind, consensus was reached that certain measures, for instance those related to social protection, could be applied progressively, as long as there is social dialogue.

In our view those allowances do not weaken the text, but rather take into account the particular realities and diverse situations in different member States.

The Workers’ group is also pleased to support the resolution which was proposed by the European Union and which envisages a key role for the ILO in promoting the widespread ratification of the Convention and the effective implementation of the Recommendation. It also calls on the ILO to promote capacity building to ensure decent work for domestic workers.

Therefore, adoption or ratification of these instruments need not be a response to the question of “should we” or “why”; but more appropriately to the questions “how” and “when”. Yes, we understand that, for some countries, reforms may be necessary before ratification and implementation become possible, but in the meantime, why not give the ILO these instruments to facilitate the vision of social justice which we all share?

Also, as you decide how to vote tomorrow, the Workers’ group calls your attention to the fact that many of us here within this group are also employers of domestic workers. Many of us could not lead the lives we do, including being here, without the labour of someone in our own home. Many of us have already committed ourselves to implementing decent work within our own homes. We recognize the need to bring human dignity to a category of workers whose valuable contributions build households, communities and societies.

Throughout our discussions, there has been a shared view that achieving decent work for domestic workers is the main route to lifting them out of poverty and empowering their economic and social potential. We therefore see the adoption of these instruments as an important step in achieving social justice, since it represents a positive investment in millions of families, workplaces and communities.

We have laid a solid foundation with these proposed instruments but the work, as you have heard before, is far from over. The Workers’ group knows that, once we have handed these instruments over to the ILO tomorrow, our next task will be to ensure that national laws, regulations and collective agreements build on the consensus we have reached. What is more, these instruments only set minimum standards. So, we look forward to building upon them, through constructive dialogue, in the way that we have seen work during the past two weeks within our Committee.

There is a saying that “the time is always right to do the thing that is right”. Now is the time to ensure that we adopt these instruments and assist this House in advancing its vision of decent work for all.

We therefore recommend that, tomorrow, we mark history for the ILO and the millions of domestic workers throughout the world. Dignity delayed must not become dignity denied.

The millions of domestic workers throughout the world are counting on us. Because of this, and with your vote tomorrow, we will bring the curtain down on this 100th Session of the International Labour Conference with a majority vote that declares to the world that we believe in the ILO, that we are prepared to “walk the talk” as we stand for what is right. Let us show that the pride we share is part of an exercise that demonstrates our commitment to human dignity, to social justice and to decent work for all.