Domestic Workers Fight for Their Rights in Kenya

Domestic Workers Fight for Their Rights in Kenya

Domestic workers are some of the world’s most vulnerable workers, comprising a significant part of the global workforce in informal employment. Lucy Nyangasi, 26, a domestic worker in Nairobi, is one of some 67 million workers who labor in households around the world, often in isolation and at risk of exploitation and abuse. The Kenya Union of Domestic, Hotel, Educational Institutions, Hospitals and Allied Workers (KUDHEIHA) is attempting to improve the working conditions and wages of domestic workers like Lucy, as well as those who migrate out of the country for work, with the support of the Solidarity Center.

Solidarity Center, Kenya, Domestic Worker

Fighting back against exploitation, during the past year, domestic workers organized by KUDHEIHA joined with allies in hosting a series of public informational forums in the Mombasa area to educate domestic worker migrants about their rights, and rallied in Nairobi for ratification by Parliament of International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 189, Decent Work for Domestic Workers.

In Mombasa, to educate communities that send domestic workers to the Middle East about migrant worker rights, KUDHEIHA joined with allies in hosting a series of public informational forums throughout the area during the month of August last year. Local migrant worker and anti-human trafficking organizations, TRACE Kenya, Haki Africa and the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights helped support the events. 

Solidarity Center, Kenya, Mombasa, domestic workers, migration, KUDHEIHA

KUDHEIHA joins with local allies in a street mobilization in the Majengo area in Mvita in August 2017, inviting the public to a labor migration forum located at the chief`s office in Majengo. Credit: Solidarity Center

Solidarity Center, Kenya, Mombasa, KUDHEIHA, domestic workers, migration

KUDHEIHA staff hand out information booklets for Kenya`s migrant workers in a market in Majengo, inviting market vendors to a public forum on safe migration. Credit: Solidarity Center

The Safe Migration Forum in the Majengo area of Mvita was opened by the local chief and attended by village elders and local administrators, including the county commissioner, as well as by members of the general public. There they learned from former migrant domestic workers to various Gulf countries that unscrupulous labor brokers in Kenya and elsewhere often will not show migrating workers their contracts until they are at the airport or bus station, and frequently, the contracts are written in Arabic or a language the workers cannot understand. When they arrive at their destination, the contracts and promised salaries may even change.

Solidarity Center, Kenya, Mombasa, domestic workers, migration, GCC

Bakari Mwakifunga, Mikindani constituency chief, opens the Safe Migration Forum, attended by member of the public, village elders and local administrators, including the county commissioner. Credit: Solidarity Center

Mikindani constituency – Bakari Mwakifunga

Solidarity Center, Kenya, Mombasa, domestic workers, migration, GCC, Gulf Countries

A Safe Migration Forum participant shares her experience as a migrant worker in Jordan. Credit: Solidarity Center

In Nairobi, hundreds of domestic workers rallied in front of the Kenya Parliament on February 21, 2018, advocating for legislators to ratify International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 189, Decent Work for Domestic Workers. The effort is part of a larger campaign to improve wages and working conditions for the country’s domestic workers by (KUDHEIHA) as well as to help build momentum for a global movement for domestic workers. Although the convention went into force in 2013, it has been ratified by only 23 countries. Of these, only two African countries have ratified the convention: South Africa and Mauritius.

Solidarity Center, Kenya, KUDHEIHA, domestic workers, C189,

Kenya.C189 Rally.Banner.SC.2.18

KUDHEIHA’s push for government ratification of Convention 189 this year is an effort to secure additional recognition, rights and standards for Kenyan domestic workers working inside and outside the country. That effort is part of a larger campaign to help build momentum for a global movement for domestic workers as well as improve wages and conditions for the country’s domestic workers by KUDHEIHA. Convention 189 established the first global standards for the more than 50 million domestic workers worldwide, addressing wages, working conditions, benefits, labor brokers and child labor. 

Domestic workers and supporters rally in front of the Kenya Parliament in Nairobi on February 21, 2018, advocating for legislators to ratify International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 189, Decent Work for Domestic Workers. Credit: Solidarity Center

“It is amazing. It shows [the] power of the domestic workers in Kenya,” said Vicky Kanyoka, Africa regional coordinator for the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF). 

IDWF, Domestic Workers,Vicky Kanyoka

Credit: IDWF

On June 16, International Domestic Workers Day, we honor the women who make other people’s lives easier. This day, as every day, the Solidarity Center is committed to helping domestic workers attain safe and healthy workplaces, family-supporting wages, dignity on the job and greater equity at work and in their community. The Solidarity Center works with domestic workers and other organizations that represent them around the world, including in Cambodia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Jordan, Kenya, Liberia, Mexico, South Africa and Sri Lanka.

Reaching Kenya Communities on Realities of Migrating for Jobs

Reaching Kenya Communities on Realities of Migrating for Jobs

In Kenya, where 2.5 million people toil in irregular, precarious jobs—compared with 900,000 in the formal sector—many workers are unable to support their families and so become targets for the labor brokers who haunt villages and cities and convince them to get jobs abroad. But as migrant workers, they often experience harsh conditions and lower wages than promised by labor brokers.

In recent weeks, the Solidarity Center and our long-time partner, the Kenya Union of Domestic, Hotel, Educational Institutions, Hospitals and Allied Workers (KUDHEIHA), joined with other local migrant worker and anti-human trafficking organizations to hold a series of outreach and education efforts in the Mombasa area among local communities, culminating in three migrant worker rights forums.

Although many workers here travel abroad for jobs, primarily to Arab Gulf countries, customs or embarrassment may prevent them from sharing their experiences, and many residents do not have access to credible information on migration. As a result, communities are unaware of the hazards involved in migrating for work.

Before each event, KUDHEIHA organizers went door to door and distributed information pamphlets on the street to provide people with information about the forum and invite them to join.

“Accomplishing gains for domestic workers [in Kenya] seemed impossible, but it was done,” says Livingstone Abukho, KUDHEIHA Mombasa chairman. “Therefore, it can be done for migrant workers.”

Partners in these outreach efforts include TRACE Kenya, Haki Africa, HAART Kenya and the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights.

Kenya, migrant domestic workers, Solidarity Center

Solidarity Center and our partner KUDHEIHA join with Trace Kenya, Haki Africa and Haart Kenya in a street mobilization in the Majengo area in Mvita, inviting the public to a labor migration forum in Majengo.

A survivor shares her experience working as a domestic worker in Saudi Arabia with community members.

KUDHEIHA staff distributes the Solidarity Center information booklet for Kenya migrant workers in a market in Majengo during door-to-door outreach and invites market vendors to the public forum on labor migration at the chief’s office in Majengo.

Solidarity Center staff sticks a “Support Safe Migration” sticker on a tuk-tuk during the street mobilization in Majengo.

KUDHEIHA  staff distributes a Solidarity Center information booklet for Kenya migrant workers to mkokoteni riders (casual laborers), and invite them to the village chief’s office in Majengo for the public forum.

KUDHEIHA staff distributes safe migration booklets to passersby and invites them to the public forum on labor migration in Majengo.

KUDHEIHA staff invites a cyclist to the public forum in the chief’s office at Majengo.

Members of the public await the start of the public forum on labor migration in Majengo.

Migrant Workers in Africa: In Their Own Voices

Migrant Workers in Africa: In Their Own Voices

Some 34 million Africans are migrants, and the majority are workers moving across borders to search for decent work—jobs that pay a living wage, offer safe working conditions and fair treatment.

Yet even as they often leave their families in search of jobs that will support them, many migrant workers find that employers seek to exploit them—refusing to pay their wages, forcing them to work long hours for little or no pay, and even physically abusing them.

Throughout the January 25-27 Solidarity Center Fair Labor Migration conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, migrant domestic workers, farm workers and mine workers share their struggles, but also their courage and hope as many join together to form unions and associations to improve their lives at work. Here are their stories.

Fauzia Muthoni Wanjiru left Kenya after a labor broker told her she would work in Qatar as a receptionist. Instead, she was taken to Saudi Arabia, where she was forced to work 18 hours a day as a domestic worker cleaning two homes a day. Her passport was taken, trapping her in the country. “When you go there, you are a slave to them,” she says.

domestic workers, migrant workers, Solidarity Center, human rights, Zimbabwe

Praxedes moved from Zimbabwe to South Africa so her children would live a better life than she had. “There is nothing for me there (in Zimbabwe), she says. “A lot of employers take advantage of that.” She has worked for more than five years as a domestic worker, and employers have refused to pay her overtime, and shortchanged her pay—even as her transportation costs take up a third of her wages. “My cellphone has to be off at all times. I have three kids. If anything happens to them, I will not know.”

domestic workers, labor migration, migrant workers, Solidarity Center, human rights

Angela Mpofu migrated from Zimbabwe to support herself and her family as a domestic worker in South Africa. But like many migrant workers, she finds that she is treated poorly, as employers take advantage of her migrant status. Worse, says Mpofu, “the way (employers) treat us, it’s like we are not human beings. You’re nothing to them.”

South Africa, mine workers, Solidarity Center, human rights, occupational safety and health

As a migrant mine worker from Swaziland, Mduduzi Thabethe says he has fewer workplace rights than his South African co-workers. Although all mine workers pay the same amount into the health fund, migrant workers get inferior care and pensions are rare. “If you are a citizen of South Africa, you see you are building your country and you have something, but we have nothing.” His union, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, is working to improve conditions for migrant workers.

 

South Africa, Solidarity Center, mine workers, migrant workers, human rights


When Joe Montisetse came to South Africa from Botswana to work in gold mines in the early 1980s, he saw a black pool of water deep in a mine that signified deadly methane. Yet after he brought up the issue to supervisors, they insisted he continue working, but Montisetse refused. Two co-workers were killed a few hours later when the methane exploded. Today, with the National Union of Mineworkers, Montisete, deputy president of the union, says workers are safer now. “We formed union as mine workers to defend against oppression and exploitiation,” says Montisetse.

South Africa, migrant farm workers, Solidarity Center

In 2000, Chris Muwani migrated from Zimbabwe to South Africa, where he works on a tomato farm. If he does not fulfill his daily quota, he is not paid for the day. Migrant farm workers like Muwani are exposed to dangerous workplace conditions and without a union, cannot exercise their rights. “We use a chemical to spray grass but you don’t have rubber boots or a respirator but you are working with poison,” says Muwani. “If you protest about safety conditions, many people are fired.”

South Africa, migrant farm workers, human rights

As a migrant farm worker from Mozambique, France Mnyike receives no health care coverage, even for workplace injuries. When Mnyike broke his leg at work, his employer did not provide medical aid and his leg remains fractured. Even if his workplace offered emergency care, says Mnyike, the employer would “deduct the cost from your salary.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Domestic Workers and Socioeconomic Rights: A South African Case Study (2013)

Domestic Workers and Socioeconomic Rights: A South African Case Study (2013)

This report explores the challenges of empowering domestic workers in South Africa through the traditional trade union focus on worker rights, democratic voice and collective action. This Solidarity Center report is part of a multiyear research project, funded by the U.S.  Agency for International Development, to study the informal economy, migration, gender and rule of law together with research partners Rutgers and WIEGO.

Download report.

 

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