Beginning today, millions of domestic workers worldwide have basic labor rights, as the International Labor Organization (ILO) Domestic Workers Convention officially comes into force.
When it passed in June 2011, Convention 189 marked a major milestone, signaling the global community’s recognition that the 53 million workers who labor in households, often in isolation and at risk of exploitation and abuse, deserve full protection of labor laws. When ILO delegates in Geneva, Switzerland, passed the convention, domestic workers and their supporters from around the world unfurled a banner from the balcony of the grand United Nations Assembly Hall, while below, government delegations, workers and even some employers clapped and cheered. The historic action pointed to the recognition that domestic workers, 83 percent of whom are women, perform work—and that entails rights equal to all other wage earners.
One of the major forces behind the multiyear campaign for passage of the landmark standard is the International Domestic Workers NetWork (IDWN). On Sunday, the IDWN will receive the AFL-CIO George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award for supporting local domestic worker movements, building bridges between unions and domestic worker organizations and providing a voice for domestic workers at the international level. Many Solidarity Center partners are also IDWN members.
The award, which will be presented during the AFL-CIO’s quadrennial convention in Los Angeles, recognizes “the groundbreaking efforts of domestic workers worldwide to organize for greater awareness of and respect for their work, their historic success in the adoption of the ILO convention and their commitment to support, expand and build the global labor movement.” (Read the full AFL-CIO statement.)
In countries like the Dominican Republic, passage of Convention 189 energized domestic workers and their allies, who over the years have leafleted, held meetings and reached out to the public in multiple campaigns, seeking their rights as workers. They now are pushing hard for the government to ratify it. (For details on their campaign, download the Solidarity Center report, “Domestic Workers: Winning Recognition and Protection.”)
And in countries, such as South Africa, that have ratified the convention, domestic workers like Gladys Mnyengeza, who holds several part-time positions providing critical household support for families in Cape Town, will now be fully covered by its protections. Some of the convention’s protections include the right of domestic workers to a minimum wage in countries where such a wage exists; access to social insurance, including for maternity leave; and one day off per week.
After the ILO passed Convention 189, two ILO member states needed to ratify it for it to come into force. Uruguay became the first nation to do so, followed by the Philippines. Six other countries (Bolivia, Italy, Mauritius, Nicaragua, Paraguay and South Africa) have ratified the convention.
According to the ILO, several others have initiated the ratification process, including Costa Rica and Germany.