Tuesday, June 21, 2011

ILO Convention on Domestic Workers

On 16th June the International Labour Conference voted overwhelmingly to adopt the Convention concerning decent work for domestic workers and an associated recommendation. Readers might recall that when this item arose last year the New Zealand government and employer representatives at the conference were criticised for their failure to support the proposed convention. At the time the Minister of Labour stated that while the government supported the convention's principles it thought that a convention was not appropriate.

However, at the final vote for adoption last week all New Zealand representatives voted for the adoption of both the convention and recommendation (the ILO is unique in that it is the only international organisation that has non-government members as official voting delegates-each member state has 2 government delegates and 1 each representing employers and unions). Paul MacKay from Business New Zealand who is currently the Employers Vice-Chair at the ILO was quoted as stating:
“We all agree on the importance of bringing domestic work into the mainstream and responding to serious human rights concerns. All employers agree there are opportunities to do better by domestic workers and the households and families for whom they work”.
This convention is particularly appropriate for ILO consideration as it is aimed at short and long term migrant workers. The ILO states:
Recent ILO estimates based on national surveys and/or censuses of 117 countries, place the number of domestic workers at around 53 million. However, experts say that due to the fact that this kind of work is often hidden and unregistered, the total number of domestic workers could be as high as 100 million. In developing countries, they make up at least 4 to 12 per cent of wage employment. Around 83 per cent of these workers are women or girls and many are migrant workers.
This group of workers often enjoys little or no legal protection and are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse which at its worst constitutes forced labour and quasi-slavery. A brief web search will quickly pull up examples of significant abuse of both child and adult domestic workers including human trafficking , physical and sexual abuse and in some cases murder.

The convention adopted is ambitious and sets strong standards that should be met. However adoption does not constitute ratification and while the conventions adoption provides clear international standards this is a long way from seeing those standards made effective. It is commendable that New Zealand has now made a clear statement endorsing the need for those standards.

An ILO press release with links to the convention can be found at: http://www.ilo.org/ilc/ILCSessions/100thSession/media-centre/press-releases/WCMS_157891/lang--en/index.htm

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