Domestic Workers See Gains, yet Struggle for Decent Work

Domestic Workers See Gains, yet Struggle for Decent Work

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.)

Morocco, migrant domestic workers, Solidarity Center, human rights

“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.”

Bangladesh Laundry Workers Strike, Win Wage Boost

Bangladesh Laundry Workers Strike, Win Wage Boost

Laundry workers affiliated with the Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Union Federation (BIGUF) at the Jeans Express Ltd. Washing Division factory in Chittagong, Bangladesh, successfully negotiated a collective bargaining agreement following a two-day strike in May.

As a result of the strike, the 70 laundry workers won a 6 percent wage increase, improvements in leave, access to purified water, a union office, a prayer space and an area where workers can eat meals. The union and management also committed to a dispute resolution process.

Law Makes Legal Strikes Nearly Impossible

The strike action—which, as a legal strike, is extremely rare due to onerous legal requirements—prompted management to bargain a contract with the union.

The union had sought to begin the collective bargaining process in December 2015, but management refused to meet with the union. As per Bangladesh labor law, the union filed complaints with the government, which made several attempts at conciliation without success. On May 2, all but one union member who voted in a secret ballot election overseen by the government’s Joint Director of Labor (JDL) voted in favor of a strike.

“This has been a great success following a six-month-long struggle,” says BIGUF Organizing Secretary Chandon Kumar Dey. “Now we must now ensure implementation of the agreement and help the union build a constructive relationship with the management.”

Celebrating Solidarity Center’s Global Labor Program!

Celebrating Solidarity Center’s Global Labor Program!

Solidarity Center allies—congressional lawmakers, policymakers, union leaders, human rights and democracy representatives and others—gathered on Capitol Hill to mark the launch of the Global Labor Program, a five-year cooperative effort by the Solidarity Center and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to promote worker rights, gender equality and democracy worldwide.

“Development cannot be sustained or inclusive without the availability of decent work,” said USAID Administrator Gayle E. Smith. “How do we reach workers? Through the Global Labor Program.

The following are photo highlights from the June 7, 2016, Washington, D.C., event.
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Report: Workers’ Rights Weakened in Past Year

Report: Workers’ Rights Weakened in Past Year

Workers’ rights were weakened in most regions over the past year, according to the 2016  International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) Global Rights Index.

Repression of worker rights was compounded by restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly, including severe crackdowns in some countries, which increased by 22 percent, with 50 out of 141 countries surveyed recording restrictions.

The ITUC Global Rights Index ranks 141 countries against 97 internationally recognized indicators to assess where workers’ rights are best protected, in law and in practice.

Global Rights Index Details Chilling Repression

  • Unionists were murdered in 10 countries, including Chile, Colombia, Egypt, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Iran, Mexico, Peru, South Africa and Turkey.
  • 82 countries exclude workers from labor law.
  • More than two-thirds of countries have laws prohibiting some workers from striking.
  • More than half of all countries deny some or all workers collective bargaining.
  • Out of 141 countries, the number which deny or constrain free speech and freedom of assembly increased from 41 to 50.
  • Out of 141 countries, the number in which workers are exposed to physical violence and threats increased by 44 percent (from 36 to 52) and include Colombia, Egypt, Guatemala, Indonesia and the Ukraine.

ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow summed up the global environment this way:

“Repression of workers’ rights goes hand in hand with increased government control over freedom of expression, assembly and other fundamental civil liberties, with too many governments seeking to consolidate their own power and frequently doing the bidding of big business, which often sees fundamental rights as incompatible with its quest for profit at any expense.”

Read the full report.

Solidarity Center Marks Launch of Global Labor Program

Solidarity Center Marks Launch of Global Labor Program

Dozens of congressional lawmakers, policymakers, union leaders, human rights and democracy representatives and other Solidarity Center allies gathered on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., yesterday to mark the launch of the Global Labor Program, a cooperative effort by the Solidarity Center and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to promote worker rights, gender equality and democracy worldwide.

global labor program, Solidarity Center, Sandy Levin, human rights

Rep. Sandy Levin spoke to a packed audience marking the launch of the Global Labor Program. Credit: Solidarity Center/Lauren Stewart

Opening the event, USAID Administrator Gayle E. Smith said, “Development cannot be sustained or inclusive without the availability of decent work. How do we reach workers? Through the Global Labor Program.”

 

The five-year Global Labor Program will further expand labor rights and strengthen workers’ ability to achieve decent work, lift the voices of disenfranchised workers and broaden gender equality.

Rep. Jim McGovern, Solidarity Center, global labor program, human rights

Rep. Jim McGovern: The Solidarity Center has stood by workers no matter how difficult the circumstances. Credit: Jessica Benton-Cooney/USAID

Praising the Solidarity Center for ensuring the “voiceless have a voice,” U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez told the packed crowd that “the Global Labor Program is first and foremost about expanding worker voice and enabling workers to have meaningful input in the decisions that impact their lives and the lives of their families.

“When workers obtain their rights, it is almost always a step toward democracy,” said Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.). Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) also took part in opening the event.

Nita Lowey, Solidarity Center, human rights, global labor program

Rep. Nita Lowey: “Labor justice remains essential.” Credit: Jessica Benton-Cooney/USAID

In a letter to the gathering, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) wrote, “Solidarity Center’s ongoing work with civil society, labor unions and other governments is helping to promote both the universal values of human rights … in countries ranging from Ukraine to Colombia to Bangladesh.”

Following the opening remarks, moderated by David Yang, deputy assistant administrator in USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance, experts from the development community took part in a panel discussion to examine the role of labor rights and civic participation in fostering more just and sustainable development.

 

Working People Hard-hit by Closing Civic Space

Panel moderator, Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau noted how “the effect of closing space is felt acutely by labor.”

Shawna Bader-Blau, USAID Director Gayle Smith, Labor Secretary Tom Perez, global labor program, human rights

Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau, USAID Director Gayle Smith and Labor Secretary Thomas Perez at the Global Labor Program launch. Credit: Jessica Benton Cooney/USAID

“A forthcoming global survey by the International Trade Union Confederation is about to show a substantial global rise in documented attacks on worker speech and assembly rights, and specifically anti-union violence,” Bader-Blau said.

InterAction President Lindsay Coates continued the discussion on closing space for civil society, saying that “independent civil society is essential, but in country after country we see a growing crackdown on civil society space making it more difficult or even impossible for civic sector to do what it needs to do to help bring peaceful, sustainable ends to intractable crises and to advocate with governments and the private sector to push for development solutions and economic policies that really work for average people.”

Unions Needed to Secure Good Wages, Conditions for Migrant Workers

Turning the focus to labor migration, Jon Stivers, USAID assistant administrator of the Bureau for Asia, said labor and migration are crucial development issues in Asia—and unions are key to securing good wages and working conditions.

Further, “holding governments accountable is key to worker rights and open civil society,” he said.

InterAction Lindsay Coates, USAID Jon Stivers, EATUC Caroline Mugalla, ICRW Sarah Grammage, EICC Rob Lederer

Event panelists included (from left): InterAction President Lindsay Coates, Jon Stivers, USAID; Caroline Mugalla, EATUC; Sarah Gammage, ICRW; and Rob Lederer, EICC. Credit: Jessica Benton-Cooney/USAID

Caroline Mugalla, executive secretary of the East African Trade Union Confederation (EATUC), said some 80 percent of workers across East Africa—60 percent of whom are young people—have jobs in the informal economy, meaning they generally are paid low wages, receive no sick leave, pensions or other social protections and labor in often unsafe conditions.

“If the issue of social protections is not talked about, especially for young people, we are not talking about sustainable development,” she said.

Women’s Economic Empowerment Crucial to Development

Discussing how sustainable development requires ensuring gender equality, Sarah Gammage, director of Gender, Economic Empowerment and Livelihoods at the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), said strong unions bolster gender equality.

“Women’s economic empowerment is crucial to development, but we often neglect the connection between workers’ rights and gender rights,” she said.

Rob Lederer, executive director of the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC), also took part in the panel. The EICC is a nonprofit coalition of electronics companies committed to supporting the rights and well-being of workers and communities worldwide affected by the global electronics supply chain.

Closing the event, AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre described the difficult conditions for workers he has witnessed first-hand in countries like Colombia and Ethiopia, saying, “worker rights are under attack in far too many countries.

“Our economies are inextricably connected, and we—as workers—are either going to be pitted against each other in a race to the bottom or we are going to be rising together creating shared prosperity for everyone.”

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