The government should ratify ILO Convention 189 recognising that domestic workers must have the same rights as other workers

Dear Editor,

Tomorrow ‒ Labour Day 2013 – Red Thread is launching a campaign for the ratification of an International Labour Organisation Convention which recognises that domestic workers are real workers and must have the same rights as all other workers.
The ILO passed this Convention (ILO Convention #189) on June 16, 2011. Since then, there has been real progress in promoting domestic workers rights in many countries:

● Uruguay, Philippines, Bolivia, Italy, Mauritius and Nicaragua have ratified the Convention.
●  Brazil has passed a constitutional amendment guaranteeing equal rights for domestic workers.
●  Argentina has passed a bill limiting working hours for domestic workers and ensuring they receive paid annual and maternity leave.
●  India has included domestic workers in legislation against sexual harassment in the workplace.
●  Nine countries have passed new laws or regulations improving domestic workers’ rights, including Venezuela, Bahrain, Philip-pines, Thailand, Spain and Singapore.

●  Legislative reforms have begun in Namibia, Chile, Finland and the US, among other countries.
In this region, our fellow-members of the Caribbean Domestic Workers Network in Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Jamaica, St Lucia and Trinidad & Tobago are actively campaigning for their governments to ratify the Convention.

In Guyana, as we all know, many, many thousands of women are part-time or full-time domestic workers. With few exceptions, they face exploitation, some blatant and extreme, some less visible.   Red Thread has been talking to them and listening to their stories, which hit us where it hurts, because some of us were domestic workers and can relate to and have spoken out against the unfairness that was meted out to us, sometimes by big names in this society.

Most of the domestic workers we talked to were unwilling to tell their stories publicly unless they had left the job. They were too afraid. Here are three of the stories:

F, a single mother of three:  “My workload seemed to increase by the hour, the cleaning wouldn’t stop. I work from Monday to Friday with Saturdays and Sundays off for $2000 per day. I didn’t like the way the employer abuse the word please. My boss lady would ask me, please do this and please do that and then what was a favour suddenly turn my job. She didn’t even pay any NIS for me, all she do was promise to find out what she need to do in order to make payments but she never did it.

“If I wanted time off, I could only get it for two hours. I had to cook, clean, shop, press the clothes and put out what they have to wear on the ironing board so they can find them easily. If not, they will call me at my home to know what they have to wear on that day and why it is not on the board. I also had was to look after the children aged four and seven years.  I just get fed up and leave a few weeks ago.  I couldn’t continue to do all that for $2000 per day, plus put up with the rude manner she want to talk to me at times. I decide to stay at home, make and sell custard block and pay more attention to my kitchen garden. I does usually share the greens with my neighbours but from now on I will sell until I find a better paid job. I went to Carnegie and I might decide to make snacks to sell.”

T, a mother of five:  “Three years ago I worked with a family in the city. My working hours were from 8am to 1pm, Mondays to Saturdays but I could never leave before 3 pm.  I had to look after two children, one going to nursery school and the other was two years old. I had to get the big one ready for school, pack the lunch kit, get she dressed, etc. The other child I had to bath, feed, sing to her and ensure she went to sleep before I could do my other chores. When I am at work I am the mother for the day. She don’t have much to do with her mother.
“I wash the clothes, do the dishes, sweep and mop the house, do the ironing two days per week, including house clothes and bed sheets. The boss lady did the cooking but I had to walk with my own food. She sometimes offer me lunch and also give me things to carry home like foodstuff and clothes.  I got $3,800 for the week. ”

G, a grandmother:  “I’m financially responsible for my grandson, nine years old. I work with a religious organisation. My working hours is from Monday to Friday, 8.30am – 12.30pm but sometimes I have to stay on until 2 or 3 pm without extra payments.  I do not usually work on weekends or holidays but when they have the regular quarterly special function I have to work.

“My job is to clean the four offices, dusting down everything like computer and so on, packing away and sweeping (mopping once per week), washing hand towels every day and linens once a week by hand. They ask me a couple of times to serve coffee or tea and now it become my duty.  I have to wash the coffee cups and also take the phone calls when the receptionist is not there.  My work get much heavier when school close for the August holiday because of extra activities like camping, etc, nuff more cleaning I have to do. I also have to assist with the shopping and packing of the grocery and washing of all the towels used by the campers, all for the same money.  I get $20,000 per month (NIS is paid).”

These three stories are just a few examples of the ways domestic workers are exploited. We have made the point so many times before that the often back-breaking caring work women do at home adds value to the economy but this work is unvalued and unpaid. It is referred to as “non productive” although it produces and reproduces the labour force. The work that is unvalued and unpaid when we do it with our own families is undervalued and underpaid when we do it for others ‒ that is why domestic workers get so much “eye pass”: long hours of work, more work added to what they were employed to do, verbal abuse, no time off, often no NIS, and even sexual abuse to name a few, all for a little pittance.

ILO Convention #189 seeks to correct all those wrongdoings. It says that domestic workers must have the same basic labour rights as other workers with respect to:

●  Normal hours of work
●  Overtime compensation
●  Periods of daily and weekly rest and annual paid leave.
In addition:
●  They must receive a written contract of their employment terms and conditions
●  They are entitled to minimum wage coverage where coverage exists
● They must have conditions no less favourable than other workers, re social security protection, including maternity benefits
●  They must enjoy the promotion and protection of their human rights and fundamental rights at work including freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining

●  They must be protected against all forms of abuse, harassment and violence
●  They have the right to a safe and healthy work environment.

Article 3 of the Convention also says that member states of ILO must take measures to promote the elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour and the abolition of child labour.  This article can be useful in the fight against trafficking since one of the main ways that young girls and women are lured by traffickers in Guyana is by offers of jobs as domestic workers both here and in other countries.

Domestic workers in Guyana need the protection of ILO Convention #189. Domestic workers must have the same rights as all other workers. We call on the Government of Guyana ‒ ratify this Convention without delay!

Yours faithfully,
Joycelyn Bacchus
Joy Marcus
Halima Khan
Susan Collymore
For Red Thread

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