On June 16 International Domestic Workers Day, domestic workers are celebrating a landmark legal win by South Africa’s domestic workers for colleagues who die or are injured in their employers’ homes. For the first time, starting this year, domestic workers who suffer injury on the job are eligible for compensation for temporary and permanent disability, medical expenses, funeral costs and survivor benefits.
Until last year, South Africa’s approximately 1 million privately employed domestic workers suffered deaths and crippling injuries without access to compensation for themselves or their dependents because domestic workers were excluded from South Africa’s Compensation for Occupational Injury and Illness Act (COIDA). With Solidarity Center support, the South African Domestic Service and Allied Workers Union (SADSAWU) and human rights organization Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI) litigated and won a long-denied claim for the dependent daughter of Maria Mahlangu, a privately employed and partially sighted domestic worker who had fallen into her employer’s swimming pool and drowned in 2012. The historic judgment, made by the South African Constitutional Court in mid-November, recognized that injury and illness arising from work as a domestic worker in a private home is no different to that occurring in other workplaces and thus equally deserving of COIDA coverage.
Myrtle Witbooi, general secretary of SADSAWU and the first president of the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF), said in addition to the last year’s court ruling, South Africa’s domestic workers can also celebrate this year’s hard-fought win under revised compensation rules of three years of retroactivity to submit claims.
Under the new rules, all employers of domestic workers must register with the Compensation Fund or face penalties, and make annual payments to cover their employees. SADSAWU is focusing its efforts on educating employers and domestic workers about their obligations and rights under the new rules, says Witbooi. SERI made a new domestic worker compensation information fact sheet available to domestic workers, paralegals and community advice offices this month, while SADSAWU is producing and distributing an educational WhatsApp video and pamphlet and translating the amendment into local languages.
The unions and SERI continue to press the government for more time for domestic workers to submit claims and increase retroactivity. “We must remain that beacon of hope for workers,” says Witbooi.
Meanwhile, another domestic worker, Nobuhle Ndlovu, drowned in her employer’s swimming pool last month.
Ten years after the adoption of an International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention confirmed their labor rights, domestic workers across the globe are still fighting for recognition as workers and essential service providers, as documented by a new ILO report. And, although 32 countries have ratified Domestic Workers Convention 189, and 29 have entered the convention into force, most of the world’s 75.6 million domestic workers are still being denied social protection rights, including access to national health insurance, pension schemes and compensation funds.
Domestic workers are among the most invisible workers in the world—yet in Latin America, they are joining together to champion their rights at their workplace and in their communities, says Adriana Paz Ramirez on this week’s episode of The Solidarity Center Podcast.
Paz, Latin American regional coordinator for the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF), says these mostly Black and Indigenous women are breaking decades of intergenerational oppression and trauma, and forging new paths through holistic leadership training, creating community-wide social movements and expanding their strength by connecting with each other.
Within six months of a recent leadership training, for example, 9,000 new members signed up with 26 organizations, Paz tells host Shawna Bader-Blau, Solidarity Center executive director.
“I was so touched by a domestic worker leader who said that I have not been able to give my daughter an inheritance, like money or a house, but I’m giving her this movement. Because this is changing our lives, because this is changing our countries, because this is changing history,” she says.
“That is the significance of getting themselves into a union. If the women at the bottom of the bottom are racing up, all of us are raising up.”
Listen Anytime to The Solidarity Center Podcast
The Solidarity Center Podcast, “Billions of Us, One Just Future,” highlights conversations with workers (and other smart people) worldwide shaping the workplace for the better.
Be sure to catch last week’s episode in which Bader-Blau talks with Francia Blanco, a trans rights activist, domestic worker and union leader in Nicaragua who is working with her union to achieve rights, respect and dignity on the job for all LGBTQ+ workers.
Look for final episode this season on April 21, with International Trade Union Confederation President Ayuba Wabba. He explores the Nigerian labor movement’s response to the COVID-19 crisis and discusses the global labor movement’s plans to build back better for workers around the world
This podcast was made possible by the generous support of the American people through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) under Cooperative Agreement No.AID-OAA-L-16-00001 and the opinions expressed herein are those of the participant(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID/USG.
Lack of job protections, combined with the invisibility of their work, means many domestic workers toil long hours in unsafe conditions without a minimum wage or access to health care, sick leave or pensions. In Cambodia, domestic workers, who are not recognized as workers under national labor law or protected by Association of Southeast Asian Nations ASEAN) agreements, are pushing their government to guarantee minimum labor standards.
Nearly 100 domestic workers rallied recently in Phnom Penh in support of International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers. The convention, which mandates regular working hours, fair pay and access to social benefit programs, is an important international standard for domestic workers who seek decent work. The Association of Cambodian Domestic Workers (ACDW), the Cambodian Domestic Workers Network (CDWN) and the Solidarity Center jointly organized the event to celebrate International Domestic Workers’ Day on June 16.
The domestic workers’ unions also have debuted a documentary that examines issues arising from domestic workers’ precarious job status, with workers telling their own stories. For example, Hang Sothea, 47 and divorced, is the mother of eight children. To support her family, she has cleaned houses since 2010, working 180 hours for two employers each month—for a total wage of $170.
Another domestic worker featured in the video, Sok Rathana, 19, has been working as a domestic worker for two years while she attends high school. Explaining how she followed her mother into the profession she says: “I think I’m not good enough to do other jobs, but I can do most of the house work.” Rathana receives $70 a month for her work.
A recent survey of Cambodian domestic workers underscores how lack of legal protection can lead to exploitation for domestic workers. Of the 600 workers interviewed, 60 percent make less than $50 a month and 83 percent report being uninsured. Many say they are forced to work overtime. Even among workers who report having asked for overtime, 18 percent say they never received compensation for those hours. The nonprofit Center for Policy Studies conducted the survey, with Solidarity Center support.
Through organizations like ACDW, CDWN and the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF), which coordinates domestic workers globally to push for passage of Convention 189, Cambodian domestic workers have been petitioning the government for formal recognition of their rights. They say ratification of Convention 189 is a necessary first step toward covering the gaps in Cambodia labor laws and regional agreements that have deprived domestic workers of their worker rights.
Campaign and Media Communications Director
Privacy & Cookies Policy
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.