By Jerome Aning
Philippine Daily Inquirer First Posted 22:38:00 06/06/2010 Filed Under: Overseas Employment, Labor
MANILA, Philippines -- A Filipino woman leading an Asian migrants group called on the International Labor Organization to pressure governments, as well as workers and employers group to work for a convention setting international standards for domestic helpers.
“A definitive, coherent, and comprehensive instrument is needed to clearly establish minimum standards and rights for all domestic workers as workers,” Migrants Forum Asia executive committee chair Ellene Sana said in a speech on June 3 to delegates to the ongoing 99th International Labor Conference in Geneva, Switzerland.
Sana lamented that domestic work has not been fully and widely recognized as work; domestic workers have not been covered by labor laws that protect and promote their rights, welfare, and dignity.
“Despite the significant contributions of domestic workers to their households and employers’ families, to communities and countries (both of origin and destination), and to the industries and economies in which they selflessly invest their time, skills, sweat and tears, these domestic workers have yet to enjoy the recognition they have so long deserved,” she said
She added domestics have been in one of the “most insecure of environments where work is often casual, temporary, sub-contracted or informal, where benefits and conditions are not standardized – no minimum wage, no set working hours, no social security, and no provisions for occupational safety – and where there is little, if any, labor and human rights protection.”
Sana, who chairs the Quezon City-based Center for Migrants Advocacy, said domestics’ work should be valued and respected as one of the essential job sectors that contribute to society’s productivity and development.
“Their conditions of work must be on a par with other job categories including valid work contracts and visas, social mobility, job security and collective labor rights,” she said.
Sana said there should be a separate international pact on domestic workers because the 1979 UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women and the 1990 UN Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families only provided partial coverage of domestics’ rights.
MFA, along with the Asian Migrant Domestic Workers’ Alliance and the International Working Group for Domestic Workers, is pushing for an ILO Convention on Domestic Work that will significantly contribute to the reduction of slavery-like conditions, abuse, violence, exploitation, inequality, and discrimination against women and domestic workers.
“It will help reduce the worst forms of child labor, the stigmatization and criminalization of migrant domestic workers including undocumented workers, and racial and ethnic discrimination,” Sana explained.
The proposed convention would also help provide the minimum basis and standards for the recognition of the status and rights of domestic workers as workers.
“Domestic work is work and that domestic workers must be treated with respect and dignity,” she added, saying domestics themselves should participate in the crafting of the convention.
According to a United Nations estimate, a vast majority of the 60 million migrant workers in Asia are women and are predominantly engaged in domestic work. Most of them come from Indonesia, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, India, Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos and are employed in Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Macau, India, Taiwan, and the Middle East.
Sana said domestic workers were driven to engage in domestic work for various reasons – most commonly by the endemic poverty in their homes that made it impossible for them to have job opportunities in other industries or fields of work.
Most of these women left their own countries in the hope of earning better incomes abroad, she said.