Statement of the United for Foreign Domestic Workers’ Rights (UFWDR)
16 June 2016
Today marks the 5th year since the International Labour Organization (ILO) approved Convention No. 189 or the Domestic Workers Convention. Five years and still no qualitative change can be gleaned on the condition of migrant domestic workers (MDWs).
Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, Elis Kurniasih and Mary Jane Veloso are just some of the recent names who have shown that the vulnerability to abuse of MDWs remains, and violations of their rights as migrants, as workers and as women go unabated.
In the world, there is an estimated 67.1 million domestic workers of which 11.5 million, or 17.2 per cent, are MDWs. The number of MDWs also constitutes 7.7 per cent of all migrant workers in the world. About 73.4 per cent of all MDWs are women and most of the MDWs are concentrated – with about 17 to 20 per cent of all migrants – in the Arab States, Eastern Asia, Southeastern Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Carribean. In Nothern ctates such as USA, Canada and countries Western Europe, MDWs constitute 5 to 10 per cent of all migrants in the country.
With such huge numbers, it is disappointing to note that only 19 States have ratified C189 since its approval. Many countries hosting MDWs have not taken up the concern or have refused to align their national policies on MDWs to the spirit and letters of the convention.
While we believe that ratification of the convention alone will not qualitatively change the situation of MDWs, for countries to make such a move is a positive step towards showing recognition of the rights and dignity of MDWs. It will mean an abiding commitment to uplift condition of MDWs, reduce their vulnerability, curb violence and abuses, and recognize that they too are workers with labor and human rights.
Five years after, the major issues of MDWs are still unaddressed. Some of these are:
- Exclusion from statutes that are in line with international standards on labor, women and human rights.
MDWs continue to receive some of the lowest wages of all workers and their benefits are severely limited as domestic work is considered as low-skilled jobs. They are not covered by existing labor laws and their access to social services, public utilities and infrastructures and even to avenues of justice and redress are dictated by their insecure immigration status. Their rights to health and occupation safety are also not secure. In both the sending and receiving countries, effective redress and compensation mechanisms must be established for MDWs.
- Mandatory live-in employment, confiscation of documents, and denial of days off
In many countries, MDWs are forced to live in the household they work for. This presents a very difficult situation wherein they are made to be available anytime and they have to work for inhumanely long hours. Abuses and violence also often go unreported and happen for a long stretch of time inside the confines of private homes. Many FDWs are trapped in abusive conditions also because of confiscation of legal documents that are supposed to be in their possession.
Social relations of MDWs also suffer as they only get limited time for social interactions within their community or with the local people. Many even do not get days off – much less, paid days off – as their rest days lie on the discretion of their employer.
- Unscrupulous practices of recruitment agencies
Private recruitment agencies are provided great control over MDWs, which they wield to get the most profit from them. Exorbitant fees charged by agencies immediately put MDWs to indebtedness even before they start to work. If there are policies in place to regulate recruitment fees, these are routinely violated while the system to monitor, investigate and prosecute erring recruitment agencies remains absent.
Problems of MDWs are clear and present. Five years without drastic actions and committed resolutions is a grave injustice to MDWs who have long been laboring under the most extreme work and living conditions. While recruitment agencies are given more freedom to organize themselves into associations that can influence state policies, MDWs in many countries are being deprived of their rights to be organized and join trade unions.
Even graver are the injustices perpetuated by the commodification and modern day slavery of MDWs. For sending countries, labor export is a temporary relief to respond to growing unemployment and to increase GDP through remittances. Migrants such as MDWs are treated as mere commodities for export that are then bought for cheap labor by migrant-receiving countries. Businesses and industries thrive on the profit gained from the army of migrants that the economy of underdeveloped and developing countries churns out.
This leads to wealth inequalities among the people and between countries. Marginalization and exploitation of women also worsens.
But instead of addressing the root problems resulting from neoliberal offensives, States – especially the leading powers – are pushing to further neoliberalism that will surely intesify the crisis in many countries leading to further exploitation of migrants. For example, the growing regional integration like the ASEAN Economic Cooperation (AEC) in Southeast Asia, and the South Asia Free Trade Area (SAFTA) will further facilitate so-called free movement of capital and of skilled – but cheap – laborers. Meanwhile, majority who are considered ‘unskilled’ like domestic workers will seek to migrate through restricted (often controlled by private agencies) and even illegal means that will put them at more risk.
It is high time for countries hosting MDWs to do more for the dignity of MDWs and for countries sending domestic workers overseas to stand with their nationals for their rights. Positive steps should be taken to protect MDWs and promote their wellbeing alongside comprehensive reforms that will radically change forced migration and the exploitativeness of present-day migrant work.
UNITED FOR FOREIGN DOMESTIC WORKERS RIGHTS (UFDWR)
Core Members: Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants (APMM)
Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD)