Uruguay takes the lead to protect domestic workers

GENEVA (ILO News) – Uruguay has become the first country to ratify a convention the ILO adopted one year ago which aims at bringing tens of millions of domestic workers under the realm of labour standards.

The South American country presented its ratification of the Convention on Domestic Workers (2011) at the May 30–June 14 International Labour Conference in Geneva.

“The process of ratification of this Convention has started. This first step opens the way,” said ILO Director-General Juan Somavia.

The Convention, adopted at the 2011 ILC, is a set of international standards aimed at improving the working conditions of domestic workers in the face of what the ILO says are huge decent work deficits.

For over 56 per cent of domestic workers worldwide, laws do not establish a limit on how long a working week can be. About 45 per cent are not even entitled to a single day off per week and 36 per cent of female domestic workers have no legal entitlement to maternity leave.

The Convention sets out that domestic workers must have the same basic labour rights as other workers, including reasonable hours of work, weekly rest, freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.

It “constitutes an international commitment to work on improving the living and working conditions of a very large segment of the work force which has been historically excluded, either totally or in part, from the protection of labour law,” said Manuela Tomei, Director of the ILO’s Conditions of Work and Employment Programme.

Elizabeth Tang, of the International Domestic Workers Network said governments have already started to review legislation, in line with the Convention. “This is going to make a real impact, a real change for the better for domestic workers.”

“And, domestic workers are starting to feel they themselves are important, that they are workers,” she added.

“Domestic work will be recognized as work equal to any other. We all deserve a just wage, vacation and sick days.”

The ILO estimates there are at least 53 million domestic workers worldwide, though the number could be about twice as high, considering that this kind of work is often hidden and unregistered. In developing countries, domestic workers make up at least 4 to 12 per cent of wage employment. Around 83 per cent of domestic workers are women or girls and many are migrant workers. A second country must ratify the Convention before it comes into force.

Providing protection for the world’s millions of domestic workers has taken a major step forward. In April 2012, Uruguay became the first country to ratify ILO Convention 189, the landmark treaty guaranteeing domestic workers get the same core labour protections as other workers. Uruguay has long been a leader in protecting the rights of domestic workers, but ratifying the convention demanded a unique approach; a group of Uruguayan housewives were called on to represent the employers of domestic workers at the bargaining table.

Freedom of association in practice: Lessons learned. Global Report under the follow-up to the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. Report of the Director-General, 2008

Domestic Workers Across the World: Global and regional statistics and the extent of legal protection
This publication sheds light on the magnitude of domestic work, a sector often “invisible” behind the doors of private households and unprotected by national legislation.

The adoption of new international labour standards on domestic work (Convention No. 189 and its accompanying Recommendation No. 201) by the ILO at its 100th International Labour Conference in June 2011 represents a key milestone on the path to the realization of decent work for domestic workers.

This volume presents national statistics and new global and regional estimates on the number of domestic workers. It shows that domestic workers represent a significant share of the labour force worldwide and that domestic work is an important source of wage employment for women, especially in Latin America and Asia. It also examines the extent of inclusion or exclusion of domestic workers from key working conditions laws. In particular, it analyses how many domestic workers are covered by working time provisions, minimum wage legislation and maternity protection. The results demonstrate that under current national laws, substantial gaps in protection still remain.

The volume concludes with a summary of the main findings and a reflection on the relevance of the newly adopted international standards to extend legal protection to domestic workers.

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