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.

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