The unstoppable domestic workers’ movement: winning labour rights and protections for 15 million domestic workers

In the past few years a political and moral shift has occurred among growing numbers of political leaders which has secured rights and protections for 15 million domestic workers today. Their lives have improved by shifting away from unprotected and exploitative jobs to ones protected by labour laws.

Now they enjoy rights including the right to a minimum wage, social protection, regulation of working time and the right to one day off a week. These wins were made thanks to an unstoppable domestic workers’ movement which successfully campaigned to reach 21 ratifications of ILO Convention 189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers and dozens of labour law reforms.

The domestic workers’ movement, a unique alliance of domestic workers’ unions and movements, national trade union centres, migrant, women and human rights groups, has campaigned in alliance since the adoption of ILO Convention 189 and the launch of the 12 by 12 Campaign, a campaign initiated by the ITUC in coordination with the International Domestic Workers Federation. It has created momentum for wins made which continue today. Recently a Brazilian domestic workers law – adopted in 2013 – was strengthened by extending the rights of domestic workers for extra payments for night work and insurance against workplace accidents.

Several states in the US are close to signing domestic workers’ bills into law, and Namibia has adopted labour reforms which extend rights to domestic workers including paid maternity leave. One more country, Portugal, is in the final stage of officially ratifying the ILO Convention 189, which will bring the total number to 22 ratifications. And domestic workers have built collective bargaining power by creating new unions and organising 100,000 new members.

On today’s International Domestic Workers’ Day – which marks the historical adoption of ILO Convention 189 on 16 June 2011 – mobilisations will take place around the globe to call for respect and justice for all domestic workers. Domestic workers and unions plan actions on the street, petitions and rallies including in Indonesia, the UK, Mexico, the US, Senegal, Cambodia and India to keep up the pressure on governments to ratify C189 and adopt labour reforms.

“We stand united with all domestic workers who are determined to fight until all domestic workers are free from exploitation and forced labour and enjoy rights and protections – in law and practice – like any other workers,” said Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary.

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