Organizing migrant domestic workers
- A few words from Elizabeth
Right now, we are launching a signature campaign for a brave domestic worker in Sri Lanka. She was raped by her employer, a prestigious judge in the country. She struggled to stand up. Her union, the Domestic Workers Union determined to fight with her until justice is done. Due to this pressure, the judge has been taken to police, the Union is known and many domestic workers are joining it.
I don’t know how this story will end. We must ensure the pressure is on until the judge is brought to justice. But I feel encouraged and inspired by what the domestic workers have been doing – mobilizing and campaigning nationally and globally. The future is full of hope because domestic workers are no long just victims and voiceless. The world is changing because we move and organize.
Look at the domestic workers in Lebanon [Story 1]. They have no rights, like millions of migrant workers. Yet, they have overcome their fear and organize the first-ever domestic workers union there.
Today, let us hear your stories.
Discussion moderator: Roxani Roushas
- Roxani is a consultant for the International Labour Office in Geneva. She's currently collaborating with the ILO's Global Action Programme on Migrant Domestic Workers (GAP-MDW), a project that seeks to promote the human and labour rights of migrant domestic workers worldwide. IDWF is one of the project's partners.
There are more than 250,000 migrant domestic workers (MDWs) in Lebanon. These women hail from at least 10 different countries in Africa and Asia. Ethiopians, Bangladeshis and Filipinas make up the largest communities of MDWs in Lebanon. Other countries of origin include Nepal, Madagascar, Cameroon, Sri Lanka, Congo, and Kenya.
The cultural and linguistic differences, as well as nationality-based wage differentials make it very difficult to organize domestic workers in Lebanon. In 2012, the ILO partnered with the National Federation of Employees’ and Workers’ Unions in Lebanon (FENASOL), the International Domestic Workers’ Federation and three national NGOs to organize domestic workers in the context of FENASOL.
The partners brought the community leaders from the Philippines, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Cameroun, Madagascar and Congo together, every Tuesday, over the course of seven weeks to discuss the importance of organizing domestic workers in the context of unions and to communicate the importance of organizing to other compatriots.
- Most importantly, these meetings created synergies between the community leaders and solidarity around their identity as workers in the same sector rather than around nationality (while recognizing their important role as catalyst of change in their community). These women recruited their compatriots, who in turn recruited others. The union now counts 500 members. [Who are the community leaders in Lebanon: Over the years, women from the various communities of domestic workers have emerged as leaders on account of the links that they have established with NGOs, embassies, and other domestic workers. These women are also known for their ability to link “freelancing” domestic workers with employment and housing opportunities].
A law passed in 1967 required employers in Asunción, the capital of the Paraguay, to register domestic workers in their employment with social security.
The coverage of the law extended to all of Paraguay in 2009 but the law was rarely enforced. Domestic workers organizations (i.e., Sindicato de Trabajadoras Domésticas del Paraguay (SINTRADOP), Asociación de Trabajadoras Domésticas and the Sindicato de Trabajadores de Itaipu (SINTRAIPU) collaborated with the Ministry of Labour to produce a leaflet calling on employers to pay the December bonus to the domestic workers in their employment and to register them with the Instituto de Previsión Social (IPS), the government agency in charge of social security.
- The brochure was distributed to 20,000 households, attached to the electricity bill to make sure that employers would not throw it away. Domestic workers’ registrations in the Instituto de Previsión Social (IPS) increased manifold since the mailing campaign. As at February 2015, there were 799 new employers registered with the social security. In addition 853 new policyholders are recorded, "which means a significant increase in social insurance benefit in 2015.