Call for Philippines and other nations to enact commitments to domestic workers

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Mar 15 2012

Nisha Varia, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, has published an informative piece on the International Labor Organization's Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers. She discusses the convention, which set the first international labor standards for domestic workers in 2011, with particular reference to the Philippines. However, her piece is widely applicable to the scores of other migrant-sending and migrant-receiving countries that have informally accepted the treaty, yet have failed to ratify the treaty into law. The convention has been hailed by global NGOs for establishing critical labor rights, but the tangible impact of the treaty is almost entirely dependent upon the nations that enforce - or fail to enforce - its parameters.

The recent public abuse of a domestic worker in Lebanon, who subsequently committed suicide, epitomizes the urgent need to ratify the convention into law. Lebanon was amongst the 80% of nations that endorsed the convention in June, and remains amongst the 100% of nations that have failed to enact its provisions. While Lebanon's U.N. office requires staff who employ domestic workers to abide by a code of conduct that draws from the convention, no similar national regulations exist. The local and international outrage sparked by the disturbing video should precipitate government action, but the historically slow-pace of domestic worker legislation renders such a concrete response improbable.

Read an excerpt of Varia's piece below, and see the full article here.

The Philippines played a key leadership role in developing the convention, chairing two years of negotiations. Hans Cacdac, recently appointed director of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, earned widespread praise for his skillful chairing of the final negotiations in 2011. Now the Philippines has the opportunity to be a global leader by being the first country to ratify, and therefore become legally bound by, this groundbreaking treaty.

This convention is a landmark both for overturning generations of discrimination against primarily female workers and for achieving a remarkable consensus among countries of the global South and North. Given the large number of domestic workers who are international migrants, and the highly sensitive nature of negotiations over international migration, the broad support for the convention from migrant-receiving countries across North America, Europe and the Middle East was a huge political success. Members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, and Qatar) originally opposed a legally binding convention, but ultimately supported it strongly and voted yes.

Advancing the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East