An international expert on domestic workers has urged Arab states to better their record in protecting the rights of domestic workers by adhering to the provisions of the International Domestic Workers Convention that has come into force on Sept. 5.
“We must take advantage of the convention to remove the negatively stereotyped image of the Arab countries with regard to protecting rights of domestic workers,” said Haitham Mubarak, an Egyptian national.
Speaking to al-Watan Arabic daily, he praised the Saudi labor authorities for enacting laws to protect the rights of domestic workers and their employers.
In July, the Council of Ministers approved new regulations that aimed at bringing about dramatic positive developments in the Kingdom’s domestic help sector.
The regulations clearly specified duties and rights of employer and the domestic worker, as well as the penal actions against those who violate any provisions of the labor contract. However, the Labor Ministry declined to comment on whether Saudi Arabia would ratify the new convention that would then become binding.
The International Labor Organization’s Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189) aims at extending basic labor rights to domestic workers around the globe.
Currently there are at least 53 million domestic workers worldwide according to the International Labor Organization, and this number is increasing steadily in developed and developing countries.
This figure is in addition to the number of an estimated 10.5 million children worldwide — most of them underage - working as domestic workers. According to ILO statistics, 83 percent of domestic workers are women.
The convention needed ratification by two ILO member states. To date, eight member states (Bolivia, Italy, Mauritius, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Philippines, South Africa and Uruguay) have ratified the convention.
Since the convention’s adoption, several countries, including Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Bahrain, the Philippines, Thailand, Spain and Singapore, have passed new laws or regulations improving domestic workers’ labor and social rights.
Legislative reforms have also begun in Finland, Namibia, Chile and the United States, among others. Several others, including Costa Rica and Germany, have initiated the process of ratification of ILO Convention 189.
“All this shows that the momentum sparked by the ILO convention on domestic workers is growing. The convention and recommendation have effectively started to play their role as catalysts for change. They now serve as a starting point for devising new policies in a growing number of countries — recognizing the dignity and value of domestic work,” Manuela Tomei, director of the ILO's Working Conditions and Equality Department, said.
According to an ILO study from January 2013, entitled “Domestic Workers Across the World,” domestic workers work for private households, often without clear terms of employment, and are unregistered and excluded from the scope of labor legislation.
At the time the research was conducted, only 10 percent were covered by general labor legislation to the same extent as other workers while more than one quarter are completely excluded from national labor legislation.
“Deplorable working conditions, labor exploitation and human rights abuses are major problems facing domestic workers,” the ILO said.
It added that the lack of legal protection increases the vulnerability of domestic workers’ and thus makes it difficult for them to seek remedies.