Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Workers without Workers’ Rights


On the occsation of the International Labour Day , CARAM Asia urges the governments of both origin and destination countries to extend key labour protections to domestic workers and recognise domestic work as work.
Foreign domestic workers (FDWs) represent the most vulnerable category of workers. Being excluded from legally protected occupations, women domestic workers are isolated from mainstream labour, social and health protection laws and policies. This means domestic workers do not enjoy the minimum standards of employment that other workers do, such as a weekly day off, standard working hours, compensation for workplace injury and a minimum wage. The lack of legal protection for FDWs leads to numerous human rights violations resulting in a serious toll on their health and wellbeing. This violation of workers’ rights to adequate rest hours, appropriate working conditions, and a work environment free of abuse directly contribute to their poor state of health. The extreme cases of workplace hazards to which FDWs are exposed during their employment are evident in the growing incidences of death from workplace accidents or suicide. These abuses must be halted.
The majority of FDWs leave home in their prime age of reproduction. Hindered by language barriers and a lack of information and awareness on sexual and reproductive health issues, FDWs are vulnerable to communicable diseases, including HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. This lack of awareness, as well as personal power, to pursue safe sex leads to ill health and an increased risk of sexual violence.
FDWs are confined to their employer’s household and not being able to access to health services should they face abuse. The home has been characterized as a sanctuary for women’s human rights violators as home/domestic workers are isolated from public scrutiny and abuses are done with impunity. Unless the home is recognized as a workplace and those employed within are protected in terms of their labour and human rights, the problem will continue.
FDWs contribute to the wellbeing of their family through remittances and by providing labour to nurture the family of their employers. Therefore, their social reproductive role contributes to the sustainability of economies in both home and destination countries. However, most destination countries’ social security schemes, insurance for workplace injury, and access to employment provident funds, exclude them from social protection. In many countries, domestic workers are considered “servants” in the Employment Act and by default domestic workers are not granted their labour rights.
It is the responsibility of both source and destination countries to ensure the fundamental labour and health rights of domestic workers are guaranteed. The violation of FDWs rights occurs at all stages of the migration process. Countless cases and numerous forms of violation happen at the hands of recruitment agencies that must be subjected to prosecution and scrutiny by governments to ensure that abuse will stop. Also, it is essential that the rights of FDWs to redress must be recognised and that her right to stay and work during the time of a pending case must be ensured. Otherwise, her right to redress is only on paper but not followed in practice. An equally significant matter is the need for States to develop a policy and invest in programs for reintegration, skill training, and financial saving for returnee FDWs so they will not have to migrate time and again. Governments have to ensure that migration for employment as domestic workers must become a choice, not because of the lack of option.
On Labour Day, CARAM Asia reaffirms its commitment to work towards reclaiming the rights of FDWs while calling on the governments involved in the migration process to:
· Recognise domestic work as socio-economic activity by enacting labour laws to protect domestic workers or by amending labour laws that do not protect their rights,
· Adopt specific policies to provide FDWs’ access to health care services and social security,
· Ensure that FDWs enjoy the universal right to free association and are legally permitted to join unions like workers from other sectors,
· Halt mandatory health screening of migrants that lead to deportation,
· Abolish the employer sponsored visa system for domestic workers that leads to an unregulated work place, and
· Develop enforcement mechanisms for States and non state actors who violate FDWs’ rights.

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