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New International Legislation brings a Smile on Domestic Workers’ Faces across the Globe

17 June 2011


Today the International Community has adopted a new law on Decent Work for Domestic Workers at the 100th Annual Conference of the International Labour Organization in Geneva. This indeed is a momentous occasion and a great victory for Global Civil Society including Trade Unions who had been demanding for an International Legislation to bring Domestic Work under the legal framework. In particular the demands of Global March Against Child Labour for bringing about a strong, prohibitive section on minimum age of employment & occupational health and safety in the Legislation has also been accepted. This will contribute considerably towards the worldwide efforts in eliminating Domestic Child Labour.


“This is an international acknowledgement of the inhuman and terrible condition of the millions of victims of human and child slavery, and cannot be ignored any further. Justice for them is inevitable. Global March calls for a speedy ratification of this Convention by the governments, with utmost political will, priority and resources” asserted Mr. Kailash Satyarthi, Chairperson Global March Against Child Labour and Founder Bachpan Bachao Andolan.


Following lengthy negotiations, the International Labour Organization has adopted the historic Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers; 50 years since the issue of their rights was raised for the first time. This is a milestone for domestic workers – one of the most vulnerable groups of workers across the world. Governments, employers and unions meeting at the Annual International Labour Conference voted on Thursday to approve the Domestic Workers Convention by 396 to 16 with 63 abstentions.


Mr. Satyarthi further said: “Around 100 million domestic workers stand to gain labour rights for the first time that will protect maids, nannies, cooks and helps across the world from exploitation.  Too often invisible and hidden behind closed doors, thereby hard to regulate, these workers, a larger percent of them being children, are exploited and abused. Almost without exception, children who are in domestic labour are victims of different kinds of exploitation. They are exploited economically when they have to work long hours with no time off, at abysmally low wages or no remuneration at all. They are exploited because they generally have no social or legal protection, and suffer harsh working conditions including, for example, having to handle toxic substances”.


The Domestic Workers Convention sets forth the minimum age of employment and prohibits children in hazardous work and regulated working hours, leaves including maternity leaves, health insurance, among other decent work standards.


Now the biggest challenge that lies ahead is the ratification of this International Law (which is technically called the ILO Convention 189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers) by the Governments and domesticating the same through enactment or amendment of National Laws.


The following criteria should quite essentially be adopted by the Governments while adapting their National Laws:

  •  Legislation: making sure that labour legislation provides the same rights and protection to domestic workers as any other workers and does not include any discriminatory clauses.
  • Policy development: ensuring that migration-related policy recognizes labour market demand for domestic workers and opens up legal channels of migration for them.
  • Monitoring: introducing some form of monitoring of working conditions in the work place.
  • Abuse: forbidding, for example, the withdrawal of identity documents of domestic workers.
  • Prosecution: enforcing prosecution in the case of recruitment agents and employers/sponsors identified as having violated their contractual obligations and having committed abuses.
  • Flexibility: increasing flexibility for domestic workers in changing employers (without imprisonment and deportation) in cases of complaints of abuses.
  • Legal protection: as a minimum, domestic workers should have legal protection on clearly defined daily hours of work and rest periods; night work and overtime, including adequate compensation; clearly defined weekly rest and leave periods; minimum wage and payment of wages; standards on termination of employment; and, social security protection.
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