Most migrant women in Asia are working as foreign domestic workers. Such predominance in domestic work is obvious in countries where female migrants outnumbered men, such as the Philippines and Sri Lanka. As International Solidarity Day with Foreign Domestic Workers fell on 28 August, CARAM Asia and its members called on governments throughout the world to immediately amend national employment laws to recognise domestic workers as workers with rights no less than other categories of workers.
The International Solidarity Day with Foreign Migrant Domestic Workers was initiated in Sri Lanka following a successful Colombo Regional Summit on Foreign Domestic Workers in 2002. Then, CARAM Asia, alongside 132 other participants from various countries including those representing international UN agencies, said that 28 August should be used to highlight the plight of foreign domestic workers and the need to recognise domestic workers with labour rights equal to other categories of workers
In a report prepared for the general discussion on migrant workers, which took place during the 92nd Session of the International Labour Conference (ILC 2004), the International Labour Organisation stressed that FDWs are among the world’s most vulnerable workers. Their working conditions foster an environment of dependence and isolation, particularly in situations whereby employers confiscate their documents (travel, work and residence); workers are confined to their work place and not able to leave without escorts or for valid reasons; limited interaction and contact with the outside world and most work 24-7, without a day off. This systematic denial of their labour and human rights dampens their spirit and physical conditions, causing mental instabilities, lack of access to health care and well being and further leads to the denial of their reproductive and sexual rights.
Furthermore, lengthy labour disputes or justice process and high costs for workers to extend their stay pending their cases to be resolved result in many workers giving up on seeking justice. Employers in host countries are also frequently known to ensure that domestic workers remain isolated and solely dependent on the family by cutting off communications with their own families. Since the personal documentation of the foreign domestic workers is often withheld, many of them are arrested, detained and then deported from their host countries if they attempt to flee abusive or exploitative treatment.
The extreme institutionalised exploitation of domestic workers has been ongoing for the past three decades, and as numbers of FDW continues to rise, so too does the risk of abuse. In fact, it is clear that the previously listed rights violations ferment an environment of bonded labour with intense servitude and debt bondage that constitutes trafficking in persons. Moreover, the cycle of abuse that is inflicted on migrant domestic worker will continue until governments protect the rights of domestic workers by guaranteeing their rights through legally enforceable mechanisms with due oversight and accountability.
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In keeping with the recognition of domestic work as work, this year, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) voted for a historic new International standard for Domestic Workers and by next year the bill of rights for Domestic Workers will be finalised into this new standard. CARAM Asia calls on all governments around the world to amend and make additions to domestic employment legislation to include domestic workers. Such a move will act as a progression in line with the international standard setting-process that recognises domestic work that is ongoing and will continue until at the next International Labour Conference in 2011.
CARAM Asia and its members representing non-governmental organisations, community based organisations and trade unions recommend the following;
- Governments must enact laws and adopt other measures to ensure that the rights of domestic workers are protected under the legal framework;
- All countries must immediately sign and ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICRMW, 1990);
- States must develop redress mechanisms for effective accountability of non-state actors such as labour recruitment agencies, employers and brokers for any violations against domestic workers;
- Governments, trade unions and employer associations support and endorse the International Labour Organisations (ILO) new Convention for Domestic Workers and its supplementary recommendations.
CARAM Asia is NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. It is an open network of NGOs and CBOs, consisting of 33 members covering 18 countries in Asia and the Middle East. The CARAM Asia network is involved in action research, advocacy and capacity building with the aim of promoting and protecting the health rights of Asian migrant workers globally. Visit www.caramasia.org for more information on CARAM Asia.