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"We are Not Part of Your Family; We Have Our Own" - The Domestic Workers' Movement

"We are Not Part of Your Family; We Have Our Own" - The Domestic Workers' Movement

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by IDWFED published Mar 24, 2022 12:00 AM ReVista, the Harvard Review of Latin America, Winter 2022
Domestic workers in Latin America are united to ensure that domestic work is projected as decent work with a comprehensive care system. The Guide is an additional tool to promote safe and healthy conditions in the workplace with an additional focus on co-responsibility with employers so that they fully comply with their obligations. This protects both parties with responsibility and conviction to improve working conditions. The effective recovery of the economy and society demands, today more than ever, solutions with a gender equity perspective where the role of domestic work and care is at the center and forefront of the fight against poverty.

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Latin America -

by Sofia Trevino and Adriana Paz | Mar 24, 2022

ReVista, the Harvard Review of Latin America, Winter 2022

In 2003, shortly before I (Adriana Paz) emigrated from my native country, Bolivia, for the first time ever, a law regulating domestic work (Law 2450) was approved, despite the fact that this occupation is older than the republican life of our country. I remember the commotion caused by the law’s approval in Bolivian society. On the one hand, middle and upper class employers predicted massive unemployment for “domestic” women and condemned the great damage that such a law would cause to the “domestics” and to society. On the other hand, for the younger generations, this shock meant the awakening of a new awareness of social justice—from practice and not from theory; from the intimate and quotidian and not from the abstract and remote. After years of organizing, the new law was an expected victory for Bolivian domestic workers, who were also aware and prepared to challenge employers’ responses after a lifetime of injustices.    

The domestic workers movement throughout Latin America—which had spurred the approval of the Bolivian law— is so powerful and sector specific that it shakes individual and collective consciences historically built on the exploitation and devaluation of domestic work. At the same time, it challenges the theory and practice of the labor and feminist movements. None of these movements can be thought complete without the incorporation and adoption of the struggle of domestic workers in their political agenda and from their bases since this group of workers represents the intersection of the struggles against the oppressions of class, race, ethnicity and gender. In this sense, Law 2450 on Salaried Domestic Workers, of course, had to shake the country as it confronted us with nothing more and nothing less than the existence of colonial and patriarchal relations and practices that are normalized, naturalized and justified daily in the most immediate and intimate spheres of our lives.

The Domestic Workers’ Law 2450 in Bolivia is one of more than a dozen special rules and regulations, complementary and/or subordinate laws, decrees and legal reforms that exist in the region. These victories were achieved at the point of struggle and grassroots organization of the same organizations, unions and associations of domestic workers in the region for at least two decades. However, the materialization of these legal victories can only be explained by the long grassroots organizational history of this sector, dating back to the 1930’s in the Southern Cone (the organization of black domestic workers in Brazil created as part of the militancy of the Black clandestine communist party in 1936 led by the activist and domestic worker Laudelina Campos de Melo) and in the Andean region (the Culinary Union in Bolivia in 1935 led by Petronila Infante, an indigenous Aymara domestic worker and anarcho-syndicalist who later formed the Federation of Women’s Workers). 

This long organizational tradition and fighting experience of domestic workers also explains why of the total 35 ratifications worldwide of Convention 189 on domestic workers of the International Labor Organization (ILO), 18 ratifications are in Latin America and the Caribbean. In other words, this is the world’s leading region in ratifications and legal reforms. In the words of Pedro Américo Furtado, director of the ILO Office for Mexico and Cuba, “Thanks to Convention 189, the ILO is known in almost every home and is the result of the struggle of domestic workers to get their governments to ratify this agreement.”

Photo source: WIEGO, Domestic workers during the ILC in Geneva, 2011.

From the first domestic workers’ unions in the 1930s, the Latin American movement consolidated into the first domestic workers’ confederation in the world in 1988, giving birth to CONLACTRAHO (Latin American and Caribbean Confederation of Domestic Workers). Later, in 2013, the sector made history again when domestic workers organizations from all over the world came together to create the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF) two years after achieving the adoption of Convention 189 during the negotiations in the International Labour Conference (ILC) in 2011. Today, the Federation is made up of 82 unions and organizations in 64 countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, North America, the Caribbean and Latin America; and represents more than 600,000 domestic workers.

According to the latest ILO report, 10 years after the adoption of C189, the panorama in Latin America is as follows: of the 14.8 million domestic workers in the region, 83.4% are covered by general labor laws and regulations; 12.2% are covered by subordinate regulations or specific labor laws, and 4.4% are covered by general labor laws. In other words, in theory, domestic workers are not explicitly excluded from regulatory frameworks, but it does not mean that they enjoy the same treatment and conditions as other workers, nor does it mean that the level of legal coverage is adequate.

Although the changes to the regulatory frameworks and the creation of new national and international laws are an essential first step in the conquest of rights, it is not enough—and domestic workers know it very well. The next challenge for the Latin American movement is to address the implementation and enforcement of these progressive policies. This requires changing the balance of power between women workers and their employers in the workplace, which in most cases is also the employer’s home. It is not an easy task. Undoing the colonial social order that has built the racialization and feminization of the sector and has undervalued domestic work in society is at the core of the effective implementation of regulations.

Convention 189, although it is far from being a reality for most domestic workers who continue in informal employment, has been an indispensable advocacy tool for the sector. According to the ILO, in practice, 72.3% of domestic workers work in informal conditions due to the lack of adequate coverage of their rights. Of these, 72.3%, 67% is because of gaps in the implementation of regulations, and 5% is due to legal gaps. As a result, there continues to be a gap in Latin America between the hope of ratification or the reality of its implementation and the fulfilment of rights. Most domestic workers continue to face huge inequalities at work, and due to the isolation of their workplace, they are more vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse by employers. The IDWF study on Gender Violence in Paid Domestic Work in Latin America and the Caribbean confirms this vulnerability through a mapping of experiences enriched with interviews with 23 domestic workers’ organizations in the region.

The pandemic has further highlighted the urgent need for governments to protect the basic labor rights of domestic workers, who represent 14.3% of the economically active population in the region, according to the latest data from the ILO and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). IDWF research on Covid-19 in Latin America Fuertes y Unidas Enfrentando la Pandemia [Strong and United Facing the Pandemic] confirms that domestic workers were severely affected by the pandemic, and the urgent need for their experience and voices to be raised on the political agenda. However, the crisis also revealed a structural contradiction: on the one hand, domestic and care work is valued, but not the workers who carry out this work. 

Ten years after the adoption of the C189, its potential has materialized. Workers continue to organize, train and enter into social dialogue. The role of unions, supported by regional structures such as CONLACTRAHO, and global networks such as IDWF, is to build and maintain a membership capable of winning rights and protections for the sector. At the local level, innovative organizing techniques are implemented to develop and strengthen the power of women workers. At the regional level, the sector coordinates to effectively advocate policy on identified needs. The Guía de orientaciones de Seguridad y Salud en el Trabajo frente a la COVID-19  (Occupational Health and Safety Guidance against Covid-19) is a recent example of the sector’s contributions and committed work to offer preventive measures against contagion and to promote work practices from a sustainable perspective of human rights.

Domestic workers in Latin America are united to ensure that domestic work is projected as decent work with a comprehensive care system. The Guide is an additional tool to promote safe and healthy conditions in the workplace with an additional focus on co-responsibility with employers so that they fully comply with their obligations. This protects both parties with responsibility and conviction to improve working conditions. The effective recovery of the economy and society demands, today more than ever, solutions with a gender equity perspective where the role of domestic work and care is at the center and forefront of the fight against poverty.

YOUR HOME IS MY WORKPLACE: Health and Safety for Decent Work

The Guide, developed with domestic workers, is promoted in Latin America with a variety of key messages to increase awareness on occupational health and safety.

The pandemic is not over.

Let’s continue to comply with the Health and Safety at Work protocols against Covid-19. Domestic workers and employers united against COVID-19.

Together we are stronger!

Adriana Paz is the IDWF regional coordinator for Latin America and OSF Fellow. Paz is a labor rights organizer and popular educator with 18 years of experience working in social justice and labor rights with low wage and migrant workers (farmworker, domestic workers, maquila workers and women’s rights groups) for grassroots organizations, trade unions and NGOs. Her expertise  is to support movement building and grassroots power by translating workers’ frustrations, needs, ideas and wishes into actions, tools and strategies to support and strengthen their vision and political action.

Sofia Trevino is a development professional with more than 17 years of experience in organizational development, communications and networking. She has more than 10  years experience in program management, strategy, and hands-on development of global networks for workers in the informal economy. Trevino is currently Global Networks and Advocacy Strategist at Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO) and Sustainable Development Consultant for the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF).

 

Source: "We are Not Part of Your Family; We Have Our Own" - The Domestic Workers' Movement

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