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Domestic workers: Silent no more

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by IDWFED published Jun 16, 2014 12:00 AM
It is time to acknowledge the importance of domestic workers as valuable members of society.

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Domestic workers: Silent no more | Al Jazeera

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Fast-growing sector

Despite the risks, domestic work is a fast-growing sector. There are 19 million more domestic workers today than there were in the mid-1990s - that's a 30 percent increase in less than 20 years. Over 80 percent of these workers are women.

The world needs these women. Domestic workers contribute significantly to their home communities, sending remittances that are regularly spent on the education and health needs of their families and increasing the gross domestic product and development potential of their countries. Domestic workers enable their employers to go to work by reducing the time needed for cleaning, cooking, shopping and family tasks.

We need to realise the benefits that domestic work and migration for domestic work can offer, and this can only be achieved if these women are in safe and profitable work. The International Labour Organisation recently estimated that over $8bn is saved each year from not paying or underpaying domestic workers in forced labour. These profits should rightfully go to the workers and their families, but instead line the pockets of fraudulent recruitment companies and exploitative employers.

This is in part because many people still see domestic work as a woman's unpaid familial duty, or a job for a lower class or caste of women, instead of as productive work for wages. This misconception has slowed the process of recognising domestic workers' rights, in international law and in our own homes. On June 16, 2011, the first convention recognising the rights of domestic workers was adopted. Today, we commemorate that moment when the international community finally and positively stated that "domestic work is work".

Basic rights

So far, 14 countries have agreed to enshrine basic rights for domestic workers by ratifying ILO Convention number 189. On the anniversary of its adoption, we call on all governments to consider ratification of the convention and the inclusion of domestic workers in the general protections provided by labour laws.

But no one needs to wait for governments to act to improve conditions for domestic workers. Everyone needs to speak out about the rights of domestic workers until they receive a full day of rest each week, reasonable working hours and fair wages respecting the minimum wage. Support networks and associations of domestic workers with your time (even online) or through donations. If you are a domestic worker, learn about your rights and talk to your employer. If you employ a domestic worker, have a conversation about ways to implement recommended working standards in your own home.

Erwiana's courage is admirable. She stood up and fought for her rights and dignity as a human being, and for the rights of other domestic workers like her. Erwiana shouldn't stand alone. Stand with her by protecting the rights of domestic workers in your home and your community. Call on your government to ratify the convention and ensure that women have safe and profitable access to these much-needed jobs. If we don't acknowledge domestic workers as the valuable members of society that they are and protect them fully under the law, how many more cases like Erwiana's will there be?

Source: Yoshiteru Uramoto, Regional Director of the ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific/Al Jazeera

Story Type: News

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