Domestic work: dignifying the work, giving dignity to the workers

Very young women, migrants from the rural areas, with little education and minimum self-esteem sometimes with family responsibilities and unaware of their labour rights. Unaware even of their status as employees, thousands of women workers in Bolivian homes become easy prey for unscrupulous employers, subjected to a state of semi-slavery, with no fixed working hours, no pay and virtually no rest.

To put an end to this situation, the Federation of Domestic Workers of Bolivia (FENATRAHOB), the La Paz Foundation and ISCOD-Bolivia have initiated a project that was selected by the workers of the State Employees Trade Union Branch of the UGT to receive a subsidy from a solidarity fund created from their contributions, deducted for the purposes of the General Strike of 29 September 2010.

The project, called “The Labour and trade union rights of adolescent domestic workers in Bolivia”, is being carried out in La Paz, Cochabamba and El Alto. 250 women are being given a basic education, labour and vocational training, leading to a qualification. The most important aspect of this project however is that they are being accompanied in the process of being transformed into free women, with rights to be respected.

The project was presented on 29 May in Madrid, at an event attended by Frank Taquichiri, the FENATRAHOB’s legal advisor; Maite Muñoz, General Secretary of the State Employees Trade Union Branch of the UGT and José Manzanares, director of ISCOD.

Frank Taquichiri explained what the project was about and what its objectives were, and described the group of women, their background, and the geographical situation that they are working in. Taquichiri sought to underline just how complicated it had been to get the women involved in the activities, as in many cases they were not even aware of their status as workers, hence they did not realise they had rights. Many of them had been “recruited” by employers targeting poor rural areas and families in need, while they were still just girls, with the false promise of a better life; from that moment a relationship of personal dependence, and total financial dependence, was created with the employers, who become their only “family” (their “aunt and uncle”) and control their entire lives.

The project is therefore based on raising the awareness of the beneficiaries and, beyond their vocational training and basic education (in many cases they cannot read or write), seeking to awaken their self-esteem and empower them, making them capable of taking their own decisions. As Maite Muñoz, General Secretary of the State Employees branch of the UGT said, the training was very basic because it was aimed at liberating them, all the more necessary in the case of women, because it makes them free at the workplace, individually, in the family, in their relationship with their husbands...

Muñoz also stressed the courage and effort it took to take part in the training. “For those of us here, education is easy; you go to school until you are 18 and you don’t have to do anything else”. For these young women, however, getting an education means giving up the little free time they have (barely the Saturday and Sunday afternoons when the courses are held), and they still have to take care of their children, their husbands... Therefore, she concluded, “I think it is a good cause for this money to go to”.

The ISCOD’s programmes director spoke along similar lines, summing up the philosophy of the project: “domestic workers must demand decent work, as decent as any other. The employer must recognise their employees’ rights and their own obligations”.

From the situation described, he highlighted the comprehensive nature of the project: “the project’s technical team – a lawyer, a psychologist and a social worker – are working on these young women’s self-esteem and assertiveness, so that they are able to stand up to their employers and demand their rights.“ Then they are provided with the training tools needed to improve their skills and to specialise (with certificates recognised by the Ministries of Education and Labour) and finally to be included in the labour world enjoying all the conditions associated with decent work.

The next phase will focus on employability, and will form the basis of the continuation of the current project.

ISCOD, June 2012

Visit also: Domestic workers - 12 by 12 campaign