June 15 2011 - The UK government must honour its commitment to a new international convention protecting domestic workers from exploitation and stop trying to attempt to dilute proposed safeguards, a coalition of non-governmental organisations – which includes the TUC, Christian Aid and Anti-Slavery International – says today.
Domestic workers are particularly vulnerable to ill-treatment as their work is often excluded from national and international labour laws. But government, employer and worker representatives at the International Labour Organisation (ILO) meeting in Geneva have agreed the text of a new convention. There is to be a formal vote on its adoption tomorrow (Thursday), after which the convention must be ratified in law by individual ILO member states.
An estimated 100 million people worldwide are employed in domestic work, which in some countries constitutes up to one in ten of the workforce. It is also the most common form of child labour across the world.
As well as covering full time live-in domestic workers, the new convention also protects cleaners who will be now be formally recognised as part-time domestic workers. Individual employers will be expected to pay minimum wage and insurance contributions. ‘Nannies’ employed to perform other domestic duties like cooking or cleaning will also fall under the protection of the new convention.
All workers covered under the new convention will be entitled to basic rights including minimum starting age, maximum working hours, health and safety protection, social security coverage, the right to change employers and the right to join a union.
Marissa Begonia, a domestic worker and the delegate representing the TUC in the talks, said: 'We are dismayed by the positions the UK government took during these vital debates to agree the historic convention to articulate rights to domestic workers. The government says it supports the convention but it tried many times to make it much less effective. But if today’s vote is successful, domestic workers around the globe can look forward to better treatment at the hands of their employers.'
Audrey Guichon from Anti-Slavery International called for the government to deliver on its commitment: 'The UK government has consistently said it recognises the need for a convention to protect domestic workers, and it has said it will support the consensus reached at the ILO.'
Christian Aid policy officer Oliver Pearce, said: 'The UK government should be positively engaging to promote the rights of vulnerable workers in countries where labour rights are poor. By endorsing the convention, it can help strengthen rights for millions of domestic workers around the world who are trying to work themselves and their families out of poverty.'
UK law already complies with most of the measures but not all of them. Jenny Moss from Kalayaan said: “There are particular protections in the ILO convention that we would like the UK government to adopt so that these vulnerable workers have the same kinds of rights as all other workers in the UK. We stand ready to work with the government to make these improvements.
'We therefore expect the UK to stop being obstructive and to vote for the convention, and recognise the importance it has for improving the rights and protections of domestic workers in the UK and around the world.'
Sam Gurney, from the TUC, and member of the ILO Governing Body, said: “Unions and campaign groups in the UK will continue to work together to ensure that ministers not only ratify the convention at home, but also encourage other governments around the world to adopt it as well.'
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Notes for Editors:
1. The coalition of charities and unions includes Anti-Slavery International, Christian Aid, Justice 4 Domestic Workers, Kalayaan, and the TUC and Unite.
2. Anti-Slavery International is the world’s oldest human rights organisation and campaigns for the eradication of slavery, exposing current cases, supporting local organisations to
release the minimum 12.3 million people in slavery, and the implementation of international laws against slavery. www.antislavery.org
3. Christian Aid works in some of the world's poorest communities in nearly 50 countries. We act where the need is greatest, regardless of religion, helping people build the lives they
4. Christian Aid is a member of the ACT Alliance, a global coalition of 100 churches and church-related organisations that work together inhumanitarian assistance and development. Further details at http://www.actalliance.org.
5. Follow Christian Aid's newswire on Twitter: http://twitter.com/caid_newswire.
6. For more information about the work of Christian Aid visit www.christianaid.org.uk.