Domestic Workers

New challenges for Unions

Domestic Workers ‘Organizations around the world launched a new International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF) during a congress in Montevideo (Uruguay) from 26th to 28th October 2013 with the participation of ILO Bureau for Workers Activities (ACTRAV).On this occasion, Unions leaders explained their views about the next challenges for Unions in relation to the ratification and implementation of ILO Convention 189 on Domestic Workers.

Feature | Montevideo | 11 November 2013
Myrtle Witbooi, President of International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF)

“The gap between what is in the C189 and what is there for domestic workers is so huge in many places. For example in Asia, 97% of domestic workers have no legal protection during rest days and holidays and 88% do not receive minimum wage. How do we implement the C189 to domestic workers?

All workers including domestic workers must know what the C189 is about. We must do some serious education and publicity work in this area, for everyone. Many trade unions have yet to consolidate their power to support the ratification and implementation of the C189. To do so, every worker must recognize domestic work is work with value and domestic workers should be recognized at the same level as any other worker. Trade unions must take up this challenge to change the general perception and value judgment towards domestic work within their membership as well as in their communities. Only then the fight for the ratification and implementation of the C189 will become a common fight with a greater chance of success. "

Barbro Budin, Gender Equality and Projects officer of IUF (the global union for food, farm and hotel workers)

“The biggest gap on rights and protection are with migrant domestic workers. While the need for migrant domestic workers is constantly increasing due to the absence of relevant public services, they are the most invisible and outlawed by governments in many places. As domestic workers organizations, we must be the first to recognize migrant domestic as workers and include them in our organizations and fight together with them to ensure that their rights as enshrined in C189 are respected everywhere.

One of the biggest challenges is the European Union who is still reluctant to recognize and implement UN conventions on the protection and rights of migrant workers. The most progressive example is probably Uruguay where a legislation based on tripartite consensus has given the authorities means to implement the C189 through pro-active labour inspection in the workplaces of domestic workers. This has lead to the identification and registration of many thousands of undocumented migrant workers and also a general awareness raising about their rights. Uruguay works closely together with its neighboring countries to increase the protection of migrant workers through multilateral and bilateral agreements”.

Elisabeth Tang, General Secretary of IDWF

“Organizing domestic workers and build strong organizations of their own remains a huge challenge. They are difficult even to outreach due to the nature of their work. For the same reason and low wages, it is difficult to implement long-term due-collection system among their members. In some countries, there are even laws to restrict them in organizing, e.g. countries in the Middle East and some others in Asia.

For trade unions, the challenge has to be tackled now. We need to ensure domestic workers are in the center of every C189 ratification campaign so they will speak for themselves and be leaders of the fight. Furthermore, we need to unite each and everyone, including domestic workers, in the boarder labour movement to fight for the ratification and implement of ILO Conventions 87 and 98 on freedom of association and collective bargaining rights. Just as any other workers, domestic workers need these rights."