The importance of collective strength by Barbro Budin

Barbro Budin, Project and Gender Equality Coordinator of the IUF spoke at a side event: “Decent Work for Migrant Domestic Workers” organized by the International Labour Office (ILO) and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), on September 3, 2014.


IUF is an international federation of trade unions in the food, agricultural, hotel & tourism and domestic workers. It represents some 12 million workers around the world. In 2008/09 an international network of domestic workers was established and played a crucial role in the process towards the convention 189. The network became a Federation in 2013, the International Federation of Domestic Workers, IDWF, and constitutes a special group within the IUF.

One of the most efficient ways of promoting and protecting migrant domestic workers’ human and trade union rights is through the collective strength: union organizing and collective bargaining.

Photo: John Morgan/FLICKR (CC BY 2.0)

I would like to share one example from Europe and one from Latin America and then one example of the importance of international coordination and solidarity.

1. In Europe

Here in Geneva, where there is a proportionally high number of migrant domestic workers of whom many are undocumented, the local union SIT (Syndicat Interprofessionnel des travailleuses et travailleurs) has since many years taken up the defense of migrant domestic workers’ rights. It has among others resulted in a Model Employment Contract which has been agreed upon with the local authorities. It stipulates the minimum wage & conditions and applies to all workers – including migrant dw – who do not have a formal contract. Another important aspect of the union’s achievements is that it can speak on behalf of an undocumented migrant worker in the industrial tribunal. Together with the Swiss labour movement it has fought for the C189 to be ratified – the Swiss parliament decided to do so last June.  We are lucky to have a representative of SIT among the participants – Martine Bagnoud – who can give more detailed information about the protection of migrant dw’s rights in Geneva. SIT and the national union UNIA are members of the IDWF.

2. In Latin America

Uruguay was the first country to ratify C189 and could do so quickly as its labour legislation already was in line with the convention. Domestic workers are relatively well organized in Uruguay and have constantly improved the collective agreements through negotiations with the employers association. There is also a well established tripartite commission composed of the domestic workers’ union (SUTD), the employers’ association for domestic workers and the relevant governmental authorities. The social security institution is for example playing a crucial role in the commission. Thanks to targeted campaigns including information in TV and media, union organizing drives, work place visits by labor inspectors, more than 30,000 domestic workers have been registered in the social security system over the last few years. Many of these are migrant domestic workers from for ex Bolivia and Peru. Instead of expelling the undocumented workers, they have been guaranteed the same rights as other workers under the Uruguayan law. In December last year, another of the priority issues of the union was achieved through and agreement in the tri-partite commission and between the social security and the governmental insurance institution: an insurance against work place accident covering all workers who are registered, nationals as well as migrants.

3. Importance of international coordination and solidarity

Finally, there has also been an important precedent as a result of a conflict involving an Indian diplomat in the US. The diplomat was in fact arrested for violation of the labour legislation in NY: she had withdrawn the passport of her dw, paid her way under the minimum wage. The case led to rather serious diplomatic tensions, but the final outcome is new directives from the Indian government to its diplomats stressing the need to respect labour legislation in the countries where they are based. This would not have happened without the intervention and support of the NDWA in the US, and the Indian DW organizations as well as the international solidarity exercised by members of the IDWF and the IUF.

Source: Barbro Budin

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