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ILO milestone for domestic workers

Thousands of women travel abroad each year to work as domestic helpers. About 80 percent of all Indonesian migrant workers are women, mostly domestic workers. Some 60 percent are in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Jordan and Qatar, w David Swanson/IRIN
Activists campaigning for the rights of domestic workers are celebrating the passing of the International Labour Organization's (ILO) convention recognizing domestic work as work. The convention is a long time coming and has brought the often invisible and abused to the forefront of protection, says a leading human rights agency.

“Domestic workers face beatings, sexual abuse, non-payment of wages and human trafficking situations. They run the gamut of physical and mental abuse used to control someone and in some households it is a slave owner mentality,” said Human Rights Watch (HRW) Deputy Director in Asia Phil Robertson. “There are enough cases of abuse that there has to be some sort of protective framework for these domestic workers.”

To activists and domestic workers celebrating both in Geneva and abroad, the most groundbreaking part of the document is the acknowledgment that domestic work is, in fact, work.

"It's very basic, but very important," said Ip Puiyu, director of the International Domestic Workers Network in Asia, speaking to IRIN on the sidelines of the International Labour Conference session at which the convention was passed - with 396 votes in favour, 16 against and 63 abstentions.

The governments of Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand are among those that abstained.

Asia, in particular, is lagging behind international protection standards for domestic workers, according to the ILO, and HRW is concerned that Thailand’s abstention is a reflection of how the country intends to continue to ignore domestic worker issues.

“That they abstained from the vote is a black mark on Thailand. It is shameful and they should have supported this convention,” Robertson said from Bangkok.

ILO estimates 41 percent of the 53 million domestic workers globally are in Asia. Asia is the biggest source of migrant domestic workers to the Middle East, Canada and Europe, as well as wealthier countries in the region such as Japan and Hong Kong.

"By establishing a global set of minimum standards [the convention] is expected to provide a platform for more countries to engage in a process of reform to bring domestic workers within the mainstream of labour and social protection," said Amelita King Dejardin, chief technical adviser on domestic workers for ILO's Conditions of Work and Employment Programme.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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