KINGSTON — The development of strategies to protect domestic workers' rights, and the creation of a gender-sensitive checklist, which will provide recognition, and labour and social protection for these workers, are high on the agenda of policy makers, representatives of expert organisations and civil society from across the world, who are now engaged in a two-day conference in Kingston.
Participants from the Caribbean, Latin America, North America, Asia, Africa and Europe are also seeking to hammer out guidelines for employment contracts for domestic workers.
The conference, titled ‘Migrant Domestic Workers at the interface of migration and development: Action to expand good practice’, opened today September 7, at the Jamaica Conference Centre, downtown Kingston, and is a lead up to the concluding debate of the 2011 Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD), to be held later this year.
In her address, Global Migration Advisor for UN Women, Dr. Jean D'Cunha said the GFMD meeting is very significant, as it draws domestic workers and women migrant workers from the periphery, to the centre of development discourse, and action.
"The meeting focuses on action to support and protect the rights of domestic workers, in a spirit of partnership, between government, civil society and international organisations, based on complementarity and comparative advantage,” she said, noting that the meeting also focuses on the Caribbean experience, while drawing on a repertoire of global good practices.
Dr. D’cunha pointed out that this type of work is critically linked to economic and social development, with workers contributing by way of labour and financial remittances to their countries of origin.
However, she said that domestic work is poorly regulated, and exacerbates exploitation and abuse of workers, “because it’s not considered work, because it is privatised, isolated, performed by women, and it is considered a labour of love requiring no special skill."
"So, we really need to regulate the sector and protect and promote the rights of domestic workers. Governments need to do this, because it is a fulfillment of their national commitment to gender equality, to women’s empowerment, and to promoting the human rights and labour rights of workers,” she added.
Dr. D’cunha further stressed that the sector is poised for expansion, and that governments need to maximise the development potential of migration by regulating the sector.
“By protecting workers, hopefully we will be contributing to a reduction in undocumented work, undocumented movement, and a reduction in (human) trafficking. Employers (in the US) have stated that regulating the sector perhaps helps them to be better and more responsible employers, because decent work requires decent employers,” she argued.
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), there are some 53-100 million domestic workers worldwide, with 83 per cent being females. Latin America and the Caribbean account for 37 per cent. The ILO also reports that domestic workers remain unprotected by labour laws in some 40 per cent of countries.
The conference is organised by the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), in collaboration with UN Women (United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women), and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
By Alphea Saunders, JIS Reporter