ILO urges recognition of migrant domestic workers’ rights

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A Filipino domestic worker rests in Central on a Sunday (file photo).

MANY migrant domestic workers in Southeast Asia work 14 hours a day and less than half have a day off, an International Labor Organization (ILO) official said.

Tomoko Nishimoto, ILO Assistant Director-General and Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, urged Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) member states to pass the international convention on Domestic Workers, which protects their rights.

Nishimoto noted that, among Asean members, only the Philippines had adopted the convention.

“Often called the largest invisible workforce, there are almost 10 million domestic workers in South-East Asia and the Pacific. More than two million are migrant domestic workers,” Nishimoto said.

“In fact, domestic workers make up nearly 20 per cent of all migrant workers in the Asean region. The vast majority are women,” she added.

Nishimoto said a recent ILO survey showed that migrant domestic workers in two Asean countries “work on average 14 hours a day, only 40 per cent are given one day off per week and the vast majority are paid below the minimum wage.”

She said another ILO report showed that, globally, domestic work is the top sector where forced labour is found.

“Migrant domestic workers are even more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, as they are highly dependent on recruiters and employers, work in isolation and lack social networks,” Nishimoto said.

“Having a domestic worker that look after our children and elderly is a necessity for many men and women to pursue a career outside their homes,” she added.

Nishimoto said the demand for domestic workers in Asean will be rising due to population’s ageing, lower fertility rates, women’s increasing labour force participation and a decline of multi-generational households.

But six years after the adoption of the domestic workers’ convention by ILO, only the Philippines has ratified it, “leaving nine Asean member states to do so.”

“This international labour standard adopted by all ILO member States in 2011 officially recognises domestic work as work,” Nishimoto said.

“It sets out that domestic workers who care for families and households worldwide must have the same basic labour rights as those available to other workers: reasonable hours of work and pay, weekly rest, clear information on terms and conditions of employment, access to social security schemes and respect for their fundamental principles and rights at work including freedom of association,” she added.

Nishimoto said labour laws in most Asean countries do not apply to domestic workers “thereby excludes them from the protection provided to other workers such as social security benefits, minimum wage and limitation in working hours.”

“In fact, a recent study showed that 61 percent of all domestic workers in Asia were entirely excluded from labour protections, and only three per cent enjoyed equal protection with other general workers,” Nishimoto said.

“It is time for all Asean governments to recognize domestic work as work, and ensure that their laws and policies provide the same protection as all other workers,” she said.

“It is time for all employers of domestic workers to recognize that domestic workers are neither servants nor ‘members of the family’, but workers that should have the same rights as other workers,” she added.

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