The Rights of Domestic Workers


Filipino domestic worker at a demonstration. ©ILO
Photo by ILO via Flickr

Domestic workers work in homes. They cook, clean and care for children. Bruce Gulland and Christy VanArragon look at the lives and struggles of these workers.

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Transcript


Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Bruce Gulland.

Voice 2 

And I’m Christy VanArragon. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1 

The Bukit Timah Shopping Centre is in Singapore. It is five levels high. It contains many different stores. But it is different than most other shopping centers. If you went there, you might be surprised. The stores are filled with women. In one store, you would see a woman with a baby doll. The doll is not real. But the woman would act like she is feeding it. In another store, you would see a woman acting like she is cleaning clothes.

Voice 2 

These stores are selling domestic workers. The women are acting out jobs they help with in the home. People go to Bukit Timah to purchase the women’s services. The women will become the buyers’ servants for two years or even more. The Bukit Timah Shopping Centre is one way that people in Singapore find domestic workers to help in their homes. There are more than 200,000 domestic workers in Singapore. But they do not always have good working conditions. Today’s Spotlight is on protecting the rights of domestic workers.

Voice 1 

The International Labour Organization, or ILO, is an organization that works to protect the rights of workers. The ILO estimates that there are more than 52 million domestic workers around the world. Domestic workers can have many different responsibilities. They do jobs like cooking and cleaning. They also take care of children and old people. Most, but not all, domestic workers are women. Some of them are children working illegally.

Voice 2 

Many domestic workers leave their home countries to find work in other places. They are often helped by recruiting agencies. These companies look for possible workers. Then they connect them with a job. Most of the time, domestic workers come from poor countries. They work for wealthier families in other countries. Domestic labour is a huge international industry.

Voice 1 

In many countries there are systems that protect the rights of workers. But in most places, these systems do not protect domestic workers. Their work is unofficial. They work for an individual or a family, not an organization or company. The employers do not answer to any legal authority. In this situation, workers have very little power. This makes it more likely that they can get hurt. And sadly, this is often what happens.

Voice 2 

Karen Emmons is a writer and researcher based in Thailand. Emmons worked on a project for the ILO. She worked with photographer Steve McCurry. The project was called, “No One Should Work Like This.” It used pictures to tell the stories of domestic workers who had been hurt.

Voice 1 

The workers told stories to Emmons about their work. They described terrible conditions. For example, workers told Emmons about being forced to have sex with their employers. Workers said they had to work more than 20 hours a day with no rest. Employers often beat them. They also refused to give the workers time off work. Employers also called the workers animal names, like “donkey” or “dog.” Many of them did not receive any pay for their labour.

Voice 2 

Farah was a domestic worker in the United Arab Emirates. She worked in a home, cooking and cleaning. Twenty people lived there. Farah worked 21 hours each day. She had no rest and no days off. Her employer refused to pay her. She told Emmons,

Voice 3 

“I would get up to start cooking, then cleaning, washing clothes and then cooking again. No rest, there was just no rest. I cried and asked to go back to the recruitment agency. But my employer said, ‘I already bought you.’”

Voice 1 

Some domestic workers go to their recruitment agencies for help. But often, these agencies also hurt them. The recruitment agencies charge money for their services. Usually, domestic workers owe their recruitment agencies a lot of money before they even start working. This gives the agencies power over the workers. They can threaten them. They often try to force them to return to bad employers. In this situation, domestic workers do not have a place to go to for help. Often, employers or agencies will take their passports away from them. They have no legal protection. In a report for the ILO, Emmons wrote,

Voice 4 

“The victims were male and female, young and old, educated and uneducated. What united them was a dangerous combination of poverty and a lack of legal protection.”

Voice 2 

For many years, domestic work was informal. Governments did not consider domestic work official employment. There were no laws to protect workers. In a Youtube video on the ILO website, Emmons said,

Voice 4 

“The first step for change, I think, is that domestic work needs to be recognized as work. They need to be treated as humans. Right now they are not being treated as human. They are being treated like property. They are being treated like animals or worse.”

Voice 1 

Today, the international community has recognized that domestic workers have rights. In 2011, the International Labour Organization wrote Convention 189. Convention 189 recognizes domestic workers as part of the official labour force. It states that workers have rights. For example, they have the right to a written contract. The contract is between the employer and the domestic worker. The contract must state their hours, time off, amount of pay, and other rights and responsibilities. Under the Convention, employees and agencies cannot keep workers’ passports. They must promise a safe working environment to workers. This includes periods of daily and weekly rest. Workers also have the right to legal protection and a fair trial if they are accused of a crime.

Voice 2  

So far, only 17 countries have officially agreed to Convention 189. Many of these countries are in South America. No countries in the Middle East have agreed to Convention 189. In order to fully protect domestic worker rights, every country needs to agree to the Convention.

Voice 1 

There is still a lot of work to do to protect the rights of domestic workers. But people have hope that Convention 189 is an important beginning to change. Emmons said in a YouTube video,

Voice 4 

“Huge change has to come. Governments need to send a message to their countries. They need to say that what is going on in the privacy of homes is not right. This begins by agreeing with the Convention. This would bring changes in laws. And later, it could bring changes in the way people behave toward other human beings.”

Voice 1 

The writer of this program was Jennifer Hawkins. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United States, and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called, ‘The Rights of Domestic Workers’.

Voice 2 

We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

Question:

What is the best way to improve rights for people?

Comments


Avatar Spotlight
Bich Tham
said on September 28, 2015

The leaders of Gorvernment should enact legislation to protect rights for people, not only protect right for your class.
Everyone should behave well each other.

Avatar Spotlight
Lee Bach
said on January 05, 2017

I think we need to change the legal for domestics worker likely fair with them.

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kenhieuloilam
said on January 05, 2017

Everyone needs to be protected in life. We are concerned about the weak and the little speaking having people. We are concerned about the poor, the old, the disabled, women and children. Everyone needs to be protected to live a beautiful good life. Each of us has our responsibilities and duties in life. We do our responsibilities and duties every day. We live our lives for beautiful good things. We die for beautiful good things. We respect beautiful good things. We respect our precious dignity. We respect everyone’s precious dignity. Each of us goes to perfection.

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Dela
said on January 08, 2017

Primarily, the governments must enact the new rights protecting domestic workers. Surely, the employers should follow these newly enacted rules to change their wrong behaviour to workers, they must realize domestic workers are not things, property but human beings as each else of us!
I don’t think I must remind what children’s illegal employment represents the biggest, worst evil around the world, there are no doubts! Hopefully, the terrible phenomenon of children work will end totally in the near future although the positive solution of mentioned global problem appears as difficult highly or may almost impossible in poor, developing nations nowadays.
Thanks Spotlight for another excellent issue!
Greetings!