Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Domestic Workers Around the World

Millions of domestic workers around the world are not  protected under general labour laws and are highly vulnerable to exploitation, says a United Nations report released last week, which calls on countries to extend  social protection to them. “Domestic workers are frequently expected to work longer  hours than other workers and in many countries do not have the same rights to  weekly rest that are enjoyed by other workers,” said the Deputy  Director-General of the UN International Labour Organization (ILO), Sandra  Polaski. “Combined with the lack of rights, the extreme dependency on  an employer and the isolated and unprotected nature of domestic work can render  them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse,” she added.

According to the ILO report, Domestic workers across the world, more than 52 million people  worldwide are employed as domestic workers. While a substantial number are men  working as gardeners, drivers or butlers, 80 per cent of them are women. Of the 52 million domestic workers, only 10 per cent are  covered by labour laws to the same extent as other workers, and more than one  quarter are completely excluded from national labour legislation. This disparity in conditions translates in longer, more  unpredictable working hours with no appropriate remuneration for domestic  workers, rendering them highly vulnerable economically, as well as affecting  their health. 

The report states that more than half of all domestic  workers have no limitation on their weekly normal hours of work and about 45  per cent have no entitlement to weekly rest periods or paid annual leave. In  countries such as Qatar, Namibia, Tanzania  and Saudi Arabia,  the average hours of domestic workers range from 60 to 65 per week, largely  surpassing the statutory limits set by virtually all countries of 40 to 48  hours per week.  “Long working hours, night working and patterns of shift  work that involve an irregular distribution of working hours are among the  factors that have the greatest negative effects on workers’ health,” said an ILO  domestic work specialist, Amelita King-Dejardin. “They carry especially  important risks for women during and after pregnancy and for young workers.”

Long working hours are especially common among live-in  workers – many of whom are migrants – who are expected to be available at all  times of the night, the report notes. Many migrant workers also lack knowledge  of the local language and laws, which makes them especially vulnerable to  abusive practices, such as physical and sexual violence, psychological abuse,  non-payment of wages, debt bondage and abusive living and working  conditions.

“The large disparities between wages and working conditions  of domestic workers compared to other workers in the same country underline the  need for action at the national level by governments, employers and workers to  improve the working lives of these vulnerable but hard-working individuals,” said  Ms. Polaski.

The report’s findings are intended to act as a benchmark  against which progress in extending legal protection for domestic workers will  be measured. It also calls for joint actions taken at a national level by  governments, trade unions, employers and domestic workers’ organizations to  bring about reform in legislation as well as in practice.

Domestic workers  across the world follows the adoption in June 2011 of a new ILO Convention  and Recommendation on domestic work which sets a standard for equal treatment  between domestic and general workers in relation to working hours, rest periods  and annual leave.  The Convention will come into force in September this year.  So far, it has been ratified only by three countries: Mauritius, Uruguay  and the Philippines.

(Adapted from a UN Press Release)

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