Some 70 countries around the world have taken action to advance decent work for domestic workers in the five years since the International Labor Organization (ILO) adopted Convention 189, the standard covering domestic worker rights.
The ILO passed Convention 189 on June 16, 2011, after a global coalition of domestic workers, led by the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF), mobilized tens of thousands of workers in a campaign for recognition of the workplace rights of domestic workers. Following passage of the standard, workers mark June 16 as International Domestic Workers Day.
Most recently, Morocco passed a law covering gaps in coverage for domestic workers. The bill, approved May 31 by the country’s House of Representatives, sets the minimum age for domestic work at 18 years and raises salaries to 60 percent of the minimum wage provided in other employment sectors. The bill allows for a five-year transitional period in which those between ages 16 years and 18 years can perform domestic work, providing they have written and signed permission from their legal guardians.
Both the Democratic Labor Confederation (CDT) and the Moroccan Labor Union (UMT) praised the law for ending child labor, which they called a form of slavery.
‘I Work from 6 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Six Days a Week’
Some 53 million workers labor in households around the world, often in isolation and at risk of exploitation and abuse. Guire, an Ivory Coast migrant domestic worker in Rabat, Morocco, is among them. Guire, a mother of four children who has worked two years for her employer, toils long hours for low pay and says her employer treats her poorly. (We are using first names only to protect the workers.)
“I work from 6 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., six days week,” says Guire, a domestic worker in Morocco. Credit: Solidarity Center/Imane Zaghloul
“I work from 6 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., six days week,” says Guire, 41, in an interview with Solidarity Center staff in Morocco. “The work is really hard and I sleep in the living room on a sofa.” Guire says when she became sick, her employer did not provide her with medicine and she has no way to protest her treatment.
Amma, 32, a domestic worker from the Ivory Coast who also traveled to Morocco for domestic work, says employer requires her to “do everything.”
“I do housework, cooking, gardening, take care of the children,” says Amma. She says she is forced to sleep in the garage, is given little to eat and is regularly disparaged. “I receive insults like, ‘You are an animal,’” she says.
Since 2011, 22 countries have ratified the convention on domestic workers, although Morocco is not one of them. Neither Guire nor Amma were aware of the new legislation covering domestic workers, but as Amma says: “I demand respect because we are human beings, and if we come here it is to work, not beg.”
Hundreds of thousands of public- and private-sector workers waged a massive national strike throughout Morocco yesterday to protest the government’s unilateral approach on pension reforms, including moves to increase the retirement age, and its unwillingness to engage in dialogue with unions. Nearly 85 percent of workers joined the strike, according to union federations whose members took part, with teachers, health care workers, local government employees and port workers turning out in force.
“The strike is a message to alert the government to the seriousness of the current social situation and to meet the demands of the working class,” says Mohamed Atif, communications officer for the Democratic Labor Confederation (CDT). The unions, whose members hold a sixth of the seats in parliament, say they will block a government draft bill making pension changes.
Workers took the action after repeated calls by unions to begin negotiations went unheeded. Unions say they want to draw attention to the deteriorating economic conditions of Morocco’s working class, made worse by government’s halt to fuel subsides and violations of worker rights, including the right to strike.
The 24-hour strike included banks; postal and telecommunications services; the energy, electricity and water sectors; agriculture and fisheries; ground transportation; construction; mining; hotels, restaurants, call centers and more.
Credit: Hicham Ahmadouch/UMT
Unions called on airport workers, emergency health workers and others in key sectors to stay on the job but to wear red armbands in a show of solidarity with strikers.
Moroccan workers received widespread international support for their walkout, with theInternational Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) calling on the government to have a meaningful dialogue with unions.
“The Moroccan government is refusing to listen to its own people—the women and men who create wealth and sustain society and the economy,” says ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow. “The ITUC calls on the government to step back from its anti-social and confrontational approach, and have a meaningful dialogue with the unions.”
The IUF, the global union for food workers, denounced the government’s lack of willingness to negotiate with workers and called for greater respect for basic democratic principles and the rights of unions.
In addition to the CDT, major federations calling the strike include the Moroccan Labor Union (UMT), the General Union of Workers of Morocco (UGTM) and the Democratic Labor Federation (FDT). The National Union of Higher Education (SNEsup) also played a big role.
Thousands of teacher trainees, holding banners reading “Marching for dignity and justice,” and chanting “We’re prepared to go to prison,” marched through the streets of Morocco’s capital, Rabat, this week to denounce two government decrees to cut scholarships and jobs.
Teacher trainees defied government threats barring them from public protest. Credit: Hicham Ahmadouch/UMT
The protest followed a meeting between representatives of the teacher trainees and the government, which refused to annul the two decrees but agreed to recruit an additional 3,000 teacher trainers not covered by the 2016 fiscal year budget.
The workers, who have been on strike for two months, took to the streets despite government threats against unauthorized marches. At a rally earlier this month, several teacher trainees were beaten by police. Primarily in the their 20s and 30s, teacher trainees say the government’s decrees will further fuel the country’s already high youth unemployment rate, which, at more than 20 percent, is double the nation’s overall unemployment rate.
Morocco’s head of government, Abdelilah Benkirane, asserted that he will not “repeal the government decrees,” regarding teacher trainees.
Earlier this month, some 4,000 workers staged a sit-in outside the parliament in Rabat to protest worker cutbacks in pensions and ongoing worker rights violations, including the attacks on the teacher trainees.
Thousands of public-sector employees rallied and marched as part of a national strike yesterday in which workers in local agencies and up to 80 percent in government ministries walked off the job. Workers seek to draw attention to the unwillingness of the government to negotiate with them on such issues as wages and retirement.
The strike, held on International Human Rights Day, aimed to “defend the gains of retirement for workers, trade union freedoms, rights and dignity,” according to a joint statement by the four unions that called for the action.
Members of the Moroccan Labor Union (Union Marocaine du travail), the Democratic Confederation for Labor (Confédération démocratique du travail), the General Union of Moroccan Workers (Union Generale des Travailleurs du Maroc) and the Democratic Federation for Labor (Fédération démocratique du travail) also denounced the government’s unilateral decisions in the absence of social dialogue and the unilateral approach for the retirement reform.
Union members have sought enforcement of an agreement made in April 2011 with the previous government that improved civil servants’ salaries, boosted the minimum pension and promoted union freedom. The national strike follows a November 29 action in which tens of thousands of workers from all four unions rallied and marched to call attention to how the government’s inaction has eroded their ability to support their families. Workers also took part in a month of protest in May, and say they are planning another national strike in coming weeks.
Some 13,700 workers won collective bargaining rights at 11 call centers across Morocco, a major victory for the country’s union movement that culminates a three-year effort to help call center workers form a union. Elections took place between June 1 and June 10, and the results were announced late last week.
The Union Marocaine du Travail (Moroccan Labor Union, UMT) also won the right to represent all the country’s workers at the national level with employers and the government—a “tripartite social dialogue” process that addresses issues such as benefits and minimum wages. In these national negotiations, union representatives will negotiate on issues specific to the approximately 100,000 call center workers in Morocco.
Next Step: Bargaining
Describing the win as an “historic breakthrough,” the UMT says in a statement that the next step is to negotiate with employers and the government to achieve an industry-wide collective bargaining agreement. The Solidarity Center and UNI Global Union allied with the UMT to support the campaign with training and other resources.
In Morocco, worker delegate elections are held every six years. More than 35 percent of the worker delegates elected at the 11 call centers are union affiliated, giving the UMT the right to negotiate collective bargaining agreements at each worksite. Moroccan law requires at least 35 percent support for union representation at a worksite.
The call center industry, comprised of mostly young workers, a majority of whom are women, is part of the country’s growing offshoring sector. Morocco is now among the top 30 offshore destinations for call centers, business process outsourcing and information technology outsourcing.
Agriculture Workers Won Bargaining in January
The UMT is one of four union federations that will represent workers in national dialogue. The others are the Confédération Démocratique du Travail (Democratic Labor Confederation, CDT); the Union Générale des Travailleurs du Maroc (General Union of Moroccan Workers, UGTM; and the Union Nationale du Travail au Maroc (National Union of Moroccan Workers, UNTM).
In another major victory for Moroccan workers earlier this year, the CDT and the agro-industry employer, Les Domaines Brahim Zniber, signed a collective bargaining agreement that covers nearly 1,000 agricultural workers on five large farms in Morocco’s fertile Meknes region.