|Maria Elena Valenzuela, Project Coordinator, ILO GAP-MDW|
While access to social protection and labour rights for migrant domestic workers is a global issue, Arab States host the most migrant domestic workers in the world, estimated at 1.6 million individuals, with a large number of those coming from Asia and more recently also from Africa.
The forum, co-hosted by the Global Action Programme on Migrant Domestic Workers and Their Families (GAP-MDW) with the support of the EU and the United Kingdom Department for International Development, is indicative of the strong and growing interest in international cooperation to promote decent work and protect the rights of migrant domestic workers.
Why is this important?Today nearly one in five domestic workers in the world is a migrant. That means there are some 11.5 million migrant domestic workers – overwhelmingly women – cleaning, cooking, and taking care of children and the elderly among other duties, often with little or no social or legal protection.
Migrant domestic workers are particularly exposed to violations of human and labour rights, given the nature of the work, and their general exclusion from national labour laws.
Information exchange is keySince its inception in 2013, GAP-MDW has worked with government and civil society partners from countries of origin and destination countries to facilitate the exchange of good practices, as well as lessons learned and common challenges. Four years on, as the programme draws to a close, that engagement is helping to make MDW rights a reality.
Discussion at the forum around a renewed domestic worker labour agreement between Uganda and Saudi Arabia, is instructive: the agreement is a second attempt following concerns raised for worker protection under a previous accord. GAP-MDW has provided both countries sending and receiving migrant domestic workers with a knowledge sharing platform to strengthen national labour governance for migrant domestic workers, as well as regional solidarity for protection of their rights.
Uganda has since requested a tripartite meeting to learn more about good practice in labour agreements on migrant domestic workers.
Hands-on toolsIn addition to the policy exchange component of GAP-MDW, the programme has produced a series of hands-on tools for migrant domestic workers, organizers, employers and policy makers. These include: MDW information passports or guides, a mobile phone resource application, vocational training manuals, a series of research briefs, and a guide on Domestic workers’ rights jointly produced with project partners the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF).
“The key to make better conditions for domestic workers is to have stronger domestic worker organizations,” says Elizabeth Tang, Secretary General of the IDWF. “Through the ILO GAP-MDW project we have been able to raise awareness among our affiliates at all levels.”
The organization is challenging all countries to recognize and protect domestic workers – including migrant domestic workers – just like any other worker, and to get on board the 2011 Domestic Workers Convention immediately. This is an ambitious challenge, but today IDWF counts some 58 affiliates in 46 countries, representing 1/2 million workers, and reports show that demand for domestic workers is growing.
Efforts like the forum in Madagascar prioritizing international cooperation and partnerships to promote migrant domestic workers’ rights are critical. Combined with organizing efforts from the burgeoning migrant domestic worker network, decent work for domestic workers as envisioned in ILO’s Convention 189, is within reach.