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It takes two to tango: how employers can help formalise the domestic work sector

Domestic workers are organising and educating employers on how to be better allies in the fight for domestic workers rights, but employers must also do their part.

Policy debate

Can employers be allies in the fight for domestic workers' rights?

We asked experts in the field of domestic workers' rights to respond to the following: 'Can employers be allies in the fight for domestic workers' rights?' This is what they answered.

Respondents

Claire Hobden & Moriah Shumpert
International Labour Organization

Saba Waheed & Lucero Herrera
UCLA Labor Center

Bridget Anderson
University of Bristol

Andrea Londoño
Fundación Bien Humano

Elizabeth Tang & Marie-José L. Tayah
International Domestic Workers Federation

Julius Cainglet & Ronahlee Asuncion
Federation of Free Workers & University of Philippines Diliman

Rosa Navarro & Mechtild Hart
Latino Union & DePaul University

Ilana Berger
Hand in Hand

Photo by Jennifer N. Fish.

Transforming the attitudes of employers: the My Fair Home (MFH) campaign

The perception that domestic work is women’s work continues to shape the low value that employers assign to the sector, irrespective of context. Social, racial, class and caste hierarchies have proven resilient to legal reforms in the sector and continue to encourage employers’ lack of compliance with worker protections.

Awareness campaigns are instrumental in educating employers about workers’ rights and obligations, and consequently in improving the working conditions of migrant domestic workers. This is why the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) launched the My Fair Home (MFH) campaign in 2015 for employers of domestic workers. 

Social, racial, class and caste hierarchies have proven resilient to legal reforms in the sector.

When employers join the campaign, they pledge to: pay fair wages to domestic workers (at least the minimum wage); ensure fair working hours and rest periods; negotiate the terms of employment with the domestic workers themselves and to set those terms in writing; ensure access to decent healthcare and a home free from abuse, harassment and violence; provide a safe, secure and private bedroom for live-in domestic workers; and safeguard domestic workers’ right to spend their free time wherever and however they choose.

MFH is part of the global campaign for the ratification of ILO Convention 189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers (C189). C189 gives domestic workers the same basic rights as other workers, including weekly days off, maximum hours of work, minimum wages, paid overtime, social security, and clear terms and conditions of employment. The MFH pledge encourages individuals to personally commit to the standards of the Convention, creating bottom-up support for the national ratification of C189.

Along with its affiliates, IDWF has used the MFH framework to reach out to different constituencies of employers. For example, in March 2017, the IDWF and ILO invited the National Federation of Employees and Workers Unions in Lebanon (FENASOL) to join MFH. FENASOL affiliates from sectors as diverse as hotels and restaurants, garment and construction took the pledge to respect domestic workers' rights in their own homes.

The General Federation of Bahraini Trade Unions joined MFH one month later. The Hong Kong Federation of Asian Domestic Workers’ Unions (FADWU) also used the MFH campaign to reach out to employers and in the process, urged them to desist from using the services of agencies that charge recruitment fees to workers, an illegal practice in Hong Kong. And in Mexico, the employer collective ‘Home Fair Home’ joined the Center for Domestic Workers’ Support and Training (CACEH) and the National Union of Domestic Workers (SINACTRAHO) to reach out to employers, and in the process, recruit new members for Home Fair Home. 

Concerted policy efforts: social dialogue and collective bargaining

In addition to influencing the perceptions of employers, domestic workers’ organisations leverage institutions to promote the recognition of their rights. Domestic workers exercise their right to voice and representation when and where they can participate in social dialogue and collective bargaining with employer groups. Here are recent examples of how social dialogue and collective bargaining can contribute to the sector’s formalisation: 

In Bolivia, the tripartite commission on domestic workers, which includes the National Federation of Domestic Workers’ Union in Bolivia (FENATRAHOB) the League of Housewives (Liga de Amas de Casa) and the Ministry of Labour, adopted a model employment contract for domestic workers in 2013.

In Uruguay, the domestic workers’ union and the Housewives’ League reached a collective bargaining agreement in 2013. According to this agreement, a bipartite commission establishes wage categories according to skills and responsibilities. All the agreement’s provisions cover national and migrant domestic workers alike. 

Collective bargaining is only possible where domestic workers are recognised by labour laws, where sectoral collective bargaining is permitted, and most importantly, where employer organisations or a public agency that is involved in the employment relationship exist.

Conclusion

Domestic workers’ organisations engage with employers daily. The objective of this engagement can be to promote awareness and educate employers, such as in the case of the MFH campaign. But it can also aim at policy changes and the eventual formalisation of the sector, which can happen through social dialogue and collective bargaining.

In contexts where domestic workers are increasingly fulfilling caregiving functions – in ageing societies where the burden of care is relegated to the individual household, to name just one example – the need for greater collaboration between domestic workers’ organisation and employers’ representatives has become crucial.

The need for greater collaboration between domestic workers’ organisation and employers’ representatives has become crucial.

The race the bottom in the working conditions of household paid care workers is also affecting the quality of the services being provided to the elderly and/or children in their care. Workers do not always have the right qualifications. Their attention is also divided given that they are often overworked and subject to competing household demands. In response to the growing demand for home health aides and home care aides in the United States of America, our affiliate the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) is collaborating with the families and individuals who employ homecare workers to redefine care work as quality work while ensuring that senior and people with disabilities can live independently in their own homes.

Therefore, the question is not whether employers can or should be allies in the fight for domestic workers’ rights, but rather whether they can afford not to be.

About the authors

Elizabeth Tang is the General Secretary of the International Domestic Workers Federation.

Marie-José L. Tayah is the regional coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa at the International Domestic Workers Federation.

Read On

'Domestic workers speak: a global fight for rights and recognition' showcases the diversity and power of the domestic workers' rights movement. Featuring contributions from 23 worker-led groups, it details the struggle of domestic workers, explores their solidarity and methods of resistance, and calls for comprehensive rights for the world's most invisible workforce.
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