Magazine article New Internationalist

'Invisible' Sector Demands Its Workers' Rights

Magazine article New Internationalist

'Invisible' Sector Demands Its Workers' Rights

Article excerpt

1-17 JUNE

100th SESSION OF THE INTERNATIONAL LABOUR CONFERENCE

Domestic workers labouring in the homes of other people are still pushed to the margins. Usually they are women from poor backgrounds faced with very few work options. 'Into our care are entrusted the most vulnerable members of society - the children, the elderly, the sick and the disabled. We sweep and clean, wash dishes, do the laundry, shop and cook, garden and carry out many other domestic tasks,' explains the International Domestic Workers' Network (IDWN) publication Platform of Demands.

Yet these tens of millions of multitaskers, without whom many societies and economies simply could not function, are largely an 'invisible' sector, denied the rights other workers have. Their economic contribution is often not taken seriously, or dismissed as an 'extension of unpaid housework'. Not protected by law, they are vulnerable to exploitation, abuse and slavery.

But now domestic workers are demanding respect. They are not 'maids', 'servants' or 'helpers'. They are workers, and they've been organizing all across the globe to be recognized as such.

At this month's conference in Switzerland, member states of the International Labour Organization (ILO) will be discussing a Convention for Domestic Workers' Rights.

'[Adoption of the Convention] would mean a tremendous change, as domestic workers in some countries are excluded from labour legislation and social protection schemes,' says Karin Pape, co-ordinator of the IDWN. She says that many governments have signalled positive responses - even India and China, although they have complained that the Convention is 'too descriptive'. …

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