Thursday, 15 March 2012

Struggles and frustrations

Protecting domestic workers


Four years ago this month, I visited the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh while investigating mistreatment of migrant domestic workers in Saudi Arabia. It was a sobering way to spend March 8, International Women’s Day. I remember the embassy officials’ frustration both at the abuses these workers suffered and their struggles to get redress.

My interviews in the preceding months produced a grim catalogue of abuses: Haima G., 17, trafficked into domestic servitude and raped by her employer; Christina M., who climbed out a window to escape employers who had refused to pay her and threatened to kill her; and Amihan F., whose employers made her sleep on the floor and kept her hungry.

I would not have dreamed then that just a few years later, governments around the world would be making commitments to defend domestic workers’ rights. But last June, the International Labor Organization, including governments, trade unions, and employers’ organizations, adopted the ILO Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers, the first global labor standards for the estimated 50 to 100 million domestic workers worldwide.

My colleagues and I at Human Rights Watch have been investigating abuses against child domestic workers and migrant domestic workers for more than a decade. In Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, and in many other countries, domestic workers are excluded from basic labor protections guaranteed to other workers. These can include a minimum age for workers, limits to working hours and a weekly day of rest.

Read more here

Opinion piece

FDW employers have too much 'power'
Letter from Edmund Pooh

Singapore has long been seen as the "training ground" for first-time foreign domestic workers (FDWs) to gain working experience. When the employment contract ends in two years, they would usually leave for greener pastures.

This could be because FDWs are not given the basic labour right to choose their ideal employer through the option of a transfer when their contract ends.

I applaud the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) for the necessary, long overdue move to make our country competitive, with the mandatory weekly day off.

But the MOM could further enhance Singapore's competitiveness: Should the FDW not be comfortable working for her employer, she should be allowed to submit a termination letter with at least one month's notice.

During the notice period, the FDW should be allowed to look for a new employer, even without a letter of consent from her current employer, since she would have already given a written intention to change employer.

The MOM does not allow for this now because the current employer has too much "power".

Read more here

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Opinion piece on Malaysia

Time to reform Malaysia’s labour laws for foreign domestic workers

By Mar 06, 2012 4:42PM UTC

Despite the Indonesian embassy’s advice to its government to end the supply of domestic maids to Malaysia indefinitely, Malaysia’s Human Resources Ministry has assured households that the maids from Indonesia will arrive this April.

The Indonesian embassy, had on Sunday, told Malaysian media that it had advised its government to stop sending maids to Malaysia indefinitely, after fresh reports of maid abuse were made known.

A swift government response in assuring Malaysian households that the supply of Indonesian maids has not been cut off is a welcomed relief, at least temporarily; for those that have been on the waiting list for domestic helpers.

After all, it was not too long ago before Indonesia had lifted a moratorium on sending maids to Malaysia that lasted about two years, following the rampant cases of maid abuse reported here. The first batch of maids from Indonesia since the ban is lifted is supposed to arrive this month.

Yet, there is no denial that Indonesian domestic workers today have more choices in terms of countries to go to, and Malaysia is falling behind in terms of attractiveness as a work destination. This is due to not only because of the maid abuse cases, but also poor work conditions due to lack of law enforcement to protect these domestic helpers.

read more here

Promises to Bangladeshi domestic workers unfulfilled

Female workers left in the lurch: Ministry sits on safety issues of domestic helps abroad; abuse reported mostly from Lebanon

Monday, March 5, 2012

The government seems little bothered about protecting female Bangladeshi domestic workers from abuse abroad, particularly in Lebanon which recruits the highest number of women migrants from Bangladesh.

Two years back, the authorities concerned had pledged, first, to provide the workers with cell phones so they could seek immediate help while in trouble and, second, to open a regular embassy in Beirut, the Lebanese capital.

However, both the pledges are yet to be fulfilled.

The issue has come to the fore recently as female migrants mainly from Lebanon and some from the United Arab Emirates and Oman -- continue to fly home following physical, psychological and sexual harassment. On return, they also complain of excessive workload, confinement to work places and lack of weekly days off.

read more here

Philippines not to be the first to ratify...

Aquino government foot-dragging on ratification of Domestic Workers Convention

Published on March 7, 2012


“We expected the Philippines, as chair of the Committee on Domestic Workers that deliberated on the text of the convention with recommendations, to be the first or one of the first to ratify the convention but so far, it seems that it is not in the list of President Aquino’s priorities.” – Filipino Migrant Workers’ Union

A union of Filipino workers s in Hong Kong recently blasted the Benigno Aquino III administration for what it said was the government’s failure to ratify the Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Work (ILO Convention No. 189) eight months after it was approved by the International Labour Organization (ILO).

On June 16, 2011, the ILO adopted what it said was a groundbreaking treaty to extend crucial labor protection to domestic workers. The ILO Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers sets the first global standard on working conditions for the estimated 50 to 100 million domestic workers all over the world, majority of whom are girls and women.

Read more here.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Press Release | Follow Singapore’s mandatory day off for foreign domestic workers, OFW group urges migrant-host governments in the Middle-east

Press Release

6 March 2012

Follow Singapore’s mandatory day off for foreign domestic workers, OFW group urges migrant-host governments in the Middle-east

A Filipino migrants’ rights group in the Middle East today said the recent granting of mandatory day off for foreign domestic workers (FDWs) by Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower (MOM) poses a real challenge to middle-eastern governments hosting about 25-M domestic workers mostly from Asian countries like the Philippines, Indonesia, and India.

“We welcome Singapore government policy shift, through its Ministry of Manpower, in granting mandatory day off for foreign domestic workers, including our 65,000 Filipino domestic workers. It certainly geared towards humanization of domestic labor and recognition that domestic works is real work,” said Migrante-Middle East regional coordinator John Leonard Monterona, also an OFW based in Saudi Arabia.

Monterona added that Singapore’s granting of mandatory day off poses a “‘litmus’ test to middle-eastern governments hosting millions of FDWs.”

He cited, for instance, most of the Gulf Cooperating Council (GCC) member-countries have reservations in recognizing domestic workers’ alienable rights as a worker and a human being citing ‘customary practices and traditions’.

“Kuwait for example opposes the granting of day-off and the internationally prescribed 8-hour work of domestic workers,” Monterona added.

On June 9, 2011, an official of Kuwait’s social affairs ministry had been quoted by Al-Qabas newspaper saying the granting of day-off and specific working hours to domestic workers “does not suit the habits, traditions and public ethics of Kuwait”. The Kuwaiti official added a maid during her day-off going to a place unknown to her sponsor is considered an offense to Kuwait’s public ethics.

“It has been known that other GCC countries and non-GCC governments also cited ‘preserving tradition and modesty of maids’ as reasons to restrict domestic workers freedom of movement and giving them day-off, among others,” Monterona noted.

Monterona said the rights of domestic workers should not be viewed as a ‘threat to host-countries tradition and customary laws.” “This could be harmonized by passing local laws that guarantees domestic workers rights while respecting the habits and traditions of the host country,” the Filipino migrant leader added.

“The slave-like view about domestic workers in the Middle East must be changed, first and foremost. This is what the ILO Convention on Domestic Workers had told the host governments including that in the Mid-east that domestic workers have rights too, rights that governments must recognize, guarantee and protect,” Monterona added.

“The passage of local legislation or policy recognizing domestic workers’ rights and welfare in the national level by the mid-east host governments must follow suit,” Monterona ended. # # #


John Leonard Monterona

Migrante-Middle East regional coordinator

Mobile No. 00966 535921228

Singapore: Domestic Workers to Get Weekly Day of Rest

Further Labor Reforms Needed to Stop Abuses, Meet Global Standards

(Human Rights Watch, New York, March 6, 2012) – The decision by Singapore’s Manpower Ministry to grant foreign domestic workers a weekly rest day is an important reform but falls short of international standards, Human Rights Watch said today. The changes, announced on March 5, 2012, go into effect only for new contracts beginning in January 2013 and do not address the exclusion of domestic workers from other key labor protections in Singapore’s Employment Act.

“The Singaporean government’s recognition of a weekly rest day as a basic labor right will make the lives of migrant domestic workers better,” said Nisha Varia, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “But this important reform should go into effect this year and apply to all domestic workers and their current contracts.”

The announcement by Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said employers will be able to give a domestic worker monetary compensation in lieu of a rest day with the domestic worker’s permission. Given the imbalance of power between employers and domestic workers, there is significant risk of abuse that employers may coerce workers to sign away their day of rest, Human Rights Watch said.

Families in Singapore employ approximately 206,000 foreign domestic workers, primarily from Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and India. Many of these workers labor long hours seven days a week, turn over several months of pay to settle charges imposed by employment agencies, and face restrictions on leaving the workplace even during their time off.

“As Manpower Minister Tan noted in his speech to parliament, a day off is critical for a domestic worker’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being,” Varia said. “The government should close the monetary loophole and ensure that domestic workers will actually get at least a minimum number of rest days.”

Singapore has introduced reforms in recent years to improve the conditions of foreign domestic workers, including mandatory orientation programs and stronger regulation of employment agencies. State prosecutors have also been increasingly vigilant in prosecuting employers responsible for physically abusing domestic workers, resulting in fines and prison terms.

However, Singapore’s labor protections still lag behind those of other migrant-receiving countries, Human Rights Watch said. This includes Hong Kong, which covers domestic workers in its main labor laws. Singapore’s protections also fall short of the standards set by the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Convention No. 189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers, adopted in June 2011.

The ILO Convention establishes the first global standards for the estimated 50 million to 100 million domestic workers worldwide. Key elements of the convention require governments to provide domestic workers with labor protections equivalent to those of other workers, including for working hours, minimum wage coverage, overtime compensation, daily and weekly rest periods, social security, and maternity protection. Singapore was one of only nine countries that did not support adoption of the convention.

“Singapore’s reforms are only a fraction of the change needed to protect women workers, who are too often undervalued and overworked,” Varia said. “Singapore should join countries around the world that have recognized the injustice of discrimination against domestic workers and are making comprehensive reforms to guarantee them the same rights as other workers.”

Friday, 2 March 2012

Filipino union lambasts PHL gov’t for slow ratification of domestic workers convention

Press Release
02 March 2012

For reference: Eman Villanueva
Vice Chairperson
Tel. No.: (852) 97585935

Filipino union lambasts PHL gov’t for slow ratification of domestic workers convention

A union of Filipinos in Hong Kong today lambasted the Philippine government for failing to give attention to the ratification of the Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Work (ILO Convention No. 189), eight months after its approval by the International Labour Organization (ILO).

“We are very worried that ILO Convention 189 still has a very hazy future as no country has ratified it yet. We expected the Philippines, as chair of the Committee on Domestic Workers who deliberated the text of the convention with recommendations, to be the first or one of the first to ratify the convention but so far, it seems to be it is not in the list of President Aquino’s priorities,” said Eman Villanueva, vice chairperson of the Filipino Migrant Workers’ Union (FMWU-HKCTU).

The FMWU, an affiliate of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU), was one of the union delegates to the 100th International Labour Conference (ILC) in June last year where the convention was approved. Its members are Filipino domestic workers in Hong Kong.

Villanueva relayed that according to an international network for domestic workers’ rights, the convention can be shelved if it is not ratified by at least two countries a year after its approval.

“We expected the Philippine government to be itching to ratify the convention considering the presence of millions of Filipino domestic workers in various countries around the world as well as hundreds of thousands more working in the Philippines. But what do we get so far: the same inattention and neglect to what is beneficial to OFWs that the Aquino government has been known for since it assumed power almost two years ago,” he added.

Villanueva reported that organizations of migrant domestic workers are lobbying for the ratification of the convention because it contains provisions that can be used to protect the rights of the domestic workers who are mostly women.

“Everyday, there are domestic workers who are abused and even meet tragic endings. It is high time that we get an international agreement that we can use to protect ourselves from the modern-day slavery that we are in,” he remarked.

Villanueva said that the call for ratification of the ILO Convention 189 will be one of the main demands of the FMWU in the protest action on March 11 in Hong Kong in commemoration of the 101st International Women’s Day. As well, the Labour Day march in May shall also feature the said demand.

“After decades of campaigning and lobbying, the historic victory of domestic workers including migrant domestic workers may all come to naught. We shall not let this be,” said Villanueva.



Filipino Migrant Workers' Union - Hong Kong (FMWU-HKCTU)
c/o APMM, G/F., No. 2 Jordan Road,
Kowloon, Hong Kong SAR
Tel. (852) 2723-7536 / 9758-5935 / 9104-1411 / 9031-1602
Fax. (852) 2735-4559

New System for FDW in Lebanon Recommended

KAFA proposes draft law to replace ‘kafala’ system for migrant workers

February 25, 2012 By Olivia Alabaster
(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News ::

BEIRUT: A draft proposal to replace the sponsorship system for migrant domestic workers in Lebanon was introduced by the rights organization KAFA (enough) Violence & Exploitation Friday, with outgoing Labor Minister Charbel Nahhas giving his full support to the initiative.The comprehensive policy paper outlines the main problems arising from the sponsorship, or “kafala,” system, and suggests recommendations for how the entire process, introduced in the 1946 legal code, could be revamped.

Removal of the sponsorship system – which ties a migrant domestic worker’s residence permit to one specific employer or sponsor in Lebanon – would allow for increased rights for the country’s some 200,000 migrant domestic workers, as well as a better situation for their employers, the report, funded by the Norwegian Embassy, argues.

Large award for mistreated Indian FDW in US

US Judge recommends $1.5mn to Indian Maid Last Updated: Thursday, February 23, 2012, 22:16

New York: In a setback to an Indian diplomat, a US judge has recommended that her maid be awarded nearly USD 1.5 million for the "barbaric treatment" and "emotional distress" suffered by her at the hands of her employer for three years.

Shanti Gurung had accused her employer, Neena Malhotra, who at the time was "serving as the Counselor of Press, Culture, Information, Education, and Community Affairs at the Consulate General of India in Manhattan" of slavery. She had come to New York city in 2006 to work as a domestic help, according to court documents.

In the 28-page recommendation filed by US Magistrate Judge Frank Maas yesterday to Judge Victor Marrero of the US District Court Southern District of New York, Maas said he "recommends that Gurung be awarded judgment against the Malhotras in the amount of USD 1,458,335" because of their "barbaric treatment" of her while she was employed as their domestic worker and forced to work long hours without adequate compensation for three years.

Maas said Gurung, who is now in her early twenties was a victim of "outrageous and shocking conduct". Her "documents were seized, her travel was restricted, and she was not permitted to telephone her family.

Indonesian Gov and ILO protection in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH – The Indonesian government says its demands for International Labor Organization (ILO) protection for its domestic workers in Saudi Arabia are “normal and reasonable”.

In a recent telephonic interview with Saudi Gazette, Hendrar Bramodu, Indonesian Labor Attaché in Riyadh, said that the Saudi Ministry of Labor and the National Recruitment Committee have not yet responded to the Indonesian proposals.

“Our demands and requirements are very normal and reasonable because international labor laws and regulations recognized by the ILO cover all kinds of workers including domestic workers. I don’t know why the Saudi Labor system excludes domestic workers from this kind of protection,” said Bramodu.

The Indonesian government, said Bramodu, had asked in 2011 for ILO protection and a basic minimum salary of SR1,200 for its workers. This was at various meetings held in Jakarta and Riyadh with Saudi government officials and private sector recruitment representatives.
Bramodu added that the Indonesian government was trying to rectify problems on its side. This includes training, preventing underage workers from entering the Kingdom and tackling the proliferation of fake certificates.

“I expect effective legislative reforms to be implemented in both countries,” said Bramodu.
A total of 96 percent of the 1.2 million Indonesian workers in the Kingdom are domestic workers.