Domestic workers campaign for recognition and protection

Domestic workers campaign for recognition and protection


Written by: Harmit Athwal, Harmit Athwal

IRR News reports on a recent meeting to organise migrant domestic workers.

The RESPECT network, the European network supporting the rights of migrant domestic workers, recently held its annual conference in London and a forum to meet colleagues in the British trade union movement, migrant organisations and NGOs working to support migrants’ rights.

RESPECT stands for Rights Equality Solidarity Power Europe Cooperation Today. In a nutshell, that is what the organisation stands for – except that its reach is now global rather than purely European. Its reach was manifested in the organisations represented at the forum – it was attended by representatives of the TUC, Unison, the Transnational Migrants’ Platform (TMP), the campaigning groups Kalayaan and Justice for Domestic Migrant Workers (J4DW), the Latin American Workers’ Association, the migrant workers’ organisation Otradela, Anti-Slavery International, Oxfam and migrant rights’ groups from Dublin and Amsterdam. The discussions focussed on the long and arduous processes involved in engaging with international organisations and governments, in relation to the creation of a new International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention to protect domestic workers.

ILO Conventions on aspects of work form the backbone of workers’ protection internationally, providing minimum standards for governments to enforce at the national level. In over a hundred Conventions, which bind the countries ratifying them, it has legislated on minimum ages, health and safety at work, hours of work, wages, pension rights and recruitment agencies, in addition to providing non-binding guidance on minimum standards in the form of declarations. For migrant domestic workers, the need for international legal mechanisms of protection is self-evident. There have been enough accounts of domestic workers being enslaved, being phsyically, sexually and emotionally abused, having passports confiscated, and losing the right to stay in the host country if they run away, which leave no doubt as to the need for protection.

Following years of lobbying and campaigning, the ILO’s annual International Labour Conference (which brings together governments, employers’ and workers’ representatives) this year adopted a text for a draft Convention on the rights of migrant domestic workers. It has been a long battle to get the other parties to agree that domestic workers should be afforded the legal protections afforded to other workers, and a longer struggle lies ahead, to ensure that the draft Convention is adopted at next year’s ILC without its protections being diluted by employers’ associations or governments, and then, that the Convention which emerges is ratified and then implemented in each signatory state’s domestic law. The daunting nature of this task can be gauged by the fact that virtually no state receiving migrants has yet ratified the UN Migrant Workers’ Convention (International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families) of 1990. But the representatives gathered at the forum are undaunted, and are already preparing a big push for more governmental and trade union support at next year’s conference.

Related links

Read an IRR news story: Migrant coalition-building in Amsterdam


The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

0 thoughts on “Domestic workers campaign for recognition and protection

  1. We thank IRR for publicising and participating in this event. IRR along with some of the other stall holders present on the night were of a handful of the many ‘campaigning’ organisations that were asked to attend. That IRR, Inquest, Abolition UK, The Campaign Against Police Violence and others attended, shows testimony to their true commitment to fighting injustice and supporting those affected. The families and supporters present will no doubt appreciate that this article has been published and circulated widely, casting a little more light on a subject that many publishers ominously avoid. Many thanks again to all at IRR particularly Harmit, and to all the volunteers, artistes and stall holders that helped to make this event a success.

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