The domestic worker has been around for centuries. A worker in an employer’s household, they take on a job that is essentially of an unpaidnature (housewives have no ‘market’ wage rate do they?). Despite increasing technological and socioeconomic advances, their services continue to be highly demanded. However, issues over their treatment and rights continue to surface–prompting the International Labor Organization to adopts its first Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers.
The Domestic Workers Convention is a…
“landmark treaty setting standards for the treatment of domestic workers that was adopted at the International Labour Conference in Geneva has been widely hailed as a milestone. The Convention and accompanying Recommendation on decent work for domestic workers aim at protecting and improving the working and living conditions of domestic workers worldwide – estimated to number anywhere between 53 million and 100 million.
Why is it needed?
Decent work deficits among domestic workers are huge. For over 56 per cent of domestic workers the law does not establish a limit on how long a working week can be. About 45 per cent of all domestic workers are not entitled to at least one day off per week. About 36 per cent of female domestic workers have no legal entitlement to maternity leave. Domestic workers are amongst the most vulnerable categories of workers, those who are already at the margin and least equipped to face the consequences of economic upturns. They comprise mainly women and girls who, to a large extent, work informally. Decent work for domestic workers means affording them respect and dignity and contributing towards their transition from informality to formality.
How does it impact the status of domestic workers?
This instrument sends a very strong political signal. It constitutes an international commitment to work on improving the living and working conditions of a very large segment of the work force which has been historically excluded, either totally or in part, from the protection of labour law. When it ratifies the Convention, a country opens itself to international scrutiny and this puts pressure on member States to ensure that their laws and policies are in conformity with the Convention. The accompanying Recommendation, which is a non-binding instrument, provides practical and useful guidance on how to give effect to the obligations embedded in the Convention. The new standards on domestic workers are both robust and flexible. They guarantee minimum protections to domestic workers, while allowing for considerable flexibility and wide ratification and continuous improvement of their working and living conditions.
You can read the rest of the interview here.
Situation in Singapore? Jolene Tan, of the feminist blog the fword, analyzes the broader situation…
Much of this racist abusiveness and dehumanisation is closely related to Singaporeans’ fear and anxiety over the country’s post-colonial survival. The national narrative has us plucked from the jaws of devastating poverty by good governance and hard work (both presented, with varying degrees of explicitness, as specifically Chinese virtues), and positions Singapore as a unique success story in a region of backward societies whose misfortunes are testament to, and constitutive of, the unreality and insignificance of their inhabitants. Thus, Human Rights Watch documents a case where an employer justified withholding wages for eight years of a FDW’s work with: “I’ve done a lot for you. Because of me, you got to breathe the air in Singapore. I gave you a luxurious life. Whatever we have done for you is enough.” In other words, because she came from a poorer country, slavery was the best she could legitimately hope for. Lee Kuan Yew, who was Prime Minister for 25 years from independence and whose son is now Prime Minister, has brandished maidhood as part of the ultimate threat to the nation’s well-being: if the 45 year-long dominance of the ruling party were to end, he cautioned, “your asset values will disappear, your apartment will be worth a fraction of what it is, your jobs will be in peril, your security will be at risk and our women will become maids in other people’s countries”.
Currently, the country in the midst of debating a mandatory weekly day off for them.
What are your thoughts about the ILO’s Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers?
Should the Singapore government ratify it? Why?