Honduran Domestic Workers Join Newly Formed Union

Honduran Domestic Workers Join Newly Formed Union

Domestic workers in Honduras increasingly are exercising their rights on the job in the country, where they have few labor law protections and so are especially vulnerable to abuse. More than 100 workers recently joined SINTRAHO (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadoras del Hogar), National Domestic Workers Union, which in October became the first legally registered domestic worker union in Honduras.

Following eight months of outreach, education, training and organizing, domestic workers formed SINTRAHO to address their difficult working conditions. Most domestic workers are women and many live in their employers’ homes, where they often are subjected to sexual harassment and other forms of gender-based violence. As in many countries worldwide, Honduran law excludes domestic workers from mandated breaks, minimum wages and access to social security.

“In Honduras, there are more than 100,000 domestic workers, and we believe that the best way for us to be heard and recognized is to organize ourselves and fight for our rights as workers in a sector that has been hidden,” says Silma Perez, SINTRAHO president.

Recognizing that most domestic workers in urban centers are internal migrants from rural areas, often from marginalized indigenous communities, leaders of FESTAGRO, the agroindustrial union federation supporting SINTRAHO, say it is especially import to support these workers as they organize for improved conditions. FESTAGRO’s confederation, CUTH, and Solidarity Center, also provide support for the new union.

Global Movement for Domestic Worker Rights

Domestic workers in Honduras are part of a worldwide mobilization of domestic workers seeking their rights, forming unions and associations, and pushing for their governments to ratify International Labor Organization Domestic Workers Convention (No. 189). Convention 189 is a binding standard in which domestic workers are entitled to full labor rights, including those covering work hours, overtime pay, safety and health standards and paid leave.

As tens of thousands domestic workers around the world mobilized around ILO 189, which was adopted in 2011, their efforts led to formation of the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF). Since then, domestic workers have campaigned for their governments to ratify it, and 29 countries have done so, meaning they are bound to its regulations, which include clearly stated work requirements, safe working conditions, paid annual leave and the freedom to form unions.

Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama are the only Central American countries that have ratified Convention 189, and SINTRAHO is planning a ratification campaign in Honduras. SINTRAHO also plans to push for greater protections for domestic workers under Honduran national labor law, including a fair minimum wage and access to social security protections.

SINTRAHO is the first national union in Honduras to specifically mention the rights of LGBTI workers in its statutes, and created an Executive Committee position for Secretary of Gender and Diversity to recognize and value its members’ diverse backgrounds.

“SINTRAHO will take on the challenge of organizing many more workers in the coming year in order to fight for national laws that will directly benefit us as domestic workers,” says Perez.

Brazil Ratifies Domestic Worker Convention

Brazil Ratifies Domestic Worker Convention

Following years of campaigning by domestic workers and their allies across Brazil, the government in recent days ratified the International Labor Organization Domestic Workers Convention (No. 189), a binding standard in which domestic workers are entitled to full labor rights, including those covering work hours, overtime pay, safety and health standards and paid leave. Brazil is the twenty-fifth country to ratify Convention 189 and the fourteenth in the Americas region.

Since the ILO passed the convention in 2011, the National Federation of Domestic Workers (FENATRAD), the National Confederation of Retail and Service Workers (CONTRACS) and the Central Union of Workers (CUT) were among unions pushing for its ratification, ultimately securing 1.2 million signatures urging the government to ratify the measure.

In a statement celebrating ratification, FENATRAD also vows to continue in the “daily struggle for dignity, valorization and recognition of domestic work, work that moves and creates conditions for other workers to dedicate themselves to productive activities.”

Brazil Economy Slumps as Labor Rights Attacked

The majority of the 7 million domestic workers in Brazil are women, primarily indigenous people and Afro-Brazilians. Brazil’s slumping economy has seen a sharp increase of workers in the informal-sector jobs, with 121,000 domestic worker jobs created between December 2014 and April 2017. At the same time, more than 3.2 million jobs were lost in the formal private sector and some 600,000 jobs lost in the public sector, according to the Department of Statistics and Socioeconomic Studies in Brazil (DIEESE).

Further, more than 9 million people have been pushed below the poverty line since 2015 and 800,000 Brazilians entered the ranks of the unemployed between January and August 2017.

Although workers are celebrating passage of the Domestic Workers Convention, they say a labor reform law passed last year severely weakens their fundamental rights on the job. The law in part dismantles provisions on overtime pay and working hours; creates new forms of precarious contracting, such as “zero-hour” contracts that do not guarantee a minimum wage; and permits pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers to work in unhealthy environments.

The law also disproportionately impacts historically disadvantaged workers, such as women and Afro-Brazilians, who earn less and are much more likely to be unemployed or underemployed than their white male counterparts.

“The convention is to guarantee decent work, unlike the new law that removes basic rights of the worker and the worker,” says Myllena Calazans, a lawyer with FENATRAD.

With Solidarity Center support, FENATRAD recently registered as a national federation, became a member of the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF) and is connecting with regional domestic worker organizations.

The Solidarity Center is also assisting the federation in education and outreach, including creation of a crossword puzzle magazine that informs Brazilian domestic workers about their rights. Many domestic workers spend numerous hours on public transportation commuting to and from work and do crossword puzzles during their commutes.

Kenya: Court Rules Employment Law Covers Domestic Workers


Kenyan domestic workers celebrate the adoption of Convention 189, Decent Work for Domestic Workers.

Employers in Kenya now must abide by the verbal contracts they make with domestic workers, following a landmark ruling by the nation’s high court that also effectively places domestic workers under Kenya’s employment law. Saying that under the Employment Act, “a verbal contract is a contract that can confer rights and can be enforced,” the judge ruled that domestic workers are covered by the national minimum wage and other provisions of the employment law.

“This court notes that many employers fail to issue their employees with a contract of service and this acts to their detriment as non-issuance of this document leaves the court to interpret the relationship between the parties which could have been well outlined by the mutual agreement of the parties,” Justice Monica Wanjiru Mbaru wrote.

The ruling, which came in December 2012, was apparently unnoticed until it was first reported April 29 in Kenya’s Business Daily. Two days later, the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) warned, through advertisements, that it would enforce the law and that employers who do not obey it face serious consequences. The NSSF said employers are required to register domestic workers and other low-wage employees such as gardeners, and contribute monthly payments to the NSSF to cover workers’ health care and other services.

Meanwhile, Kenya’s newly elected president, Uhuru Kenyatta, on May 1 raised minimum wages by 14 percent.

“The elevated court will serve worker rights as long as the law is followed to the letter,” said Albert Njeru, secretary general of the Kenya Union of Domestic, Hotel, Educational Institutions, Hospitals and Allied Workers (KUDHEIHA). The union, a Solidarity Center partner, has been at the forefront of championing the rights of domestic workers at the national level and working locally to organize workers into the union and educate them about their rights.  “The union is very excited with this ruling as it has finally drawn attention to the plight of domestic workers in the country.” He reiterated that “the union will carry on with its campaign to get full rights for domestic workers and ensure their visibility in the labor force.”

KUDHEIHA is pressing the government to pass the International Labor Organization’s Convention 189, Decent Work for Domestic Workers. The groundbreaking convention, passed in 2011, requires nations that ratify it to adhere to standards such as ensuring domestic workers are paid the nation’s minimum wage and have access to health coverage and other social security benefits, including paid leave. Convention 189 recognizes domestic work as any other work and ensures that domestic workers are treated as any other worker under labor legislation.

The Industrial Court ruling came after Robai Musinzi, a domestic worker, sued for wrongful dismissal by her employer, Safdar Mohamed Khan. Musinzi, who had worked for Khan for more than four years under a verbal agreement, won $2,057 after Khan summarily dismissed

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