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United Nations: Domestic Workers Treaty to Become Effective Next Year

(Sept. 6, 2012) The Convention on Domestic Workers, a United Nations treaty providing international standards aimed at improving the lives of domestic workers around the world, will come into effect next year. The ratification of the document by two countries, the Philippines and Uruguay, makes it possible for the Convention to come into force. (International Treaty on Domestic Workers’ Rights to Come into Force Next Year – UN, UN NEWS CENTRE (Sept. 5, 2012); Landmark Treaty for Domestic Workers to Come into Force, International Labour Organization (ILO) website (Sept. 5, 2012); C189 – Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189), NORMLEX (June 16, 2011).)

The goal of the treaty is to establish that laborers who work caring for families and households have the same basic labor rights as other workers. The Convention was adopted at the annual ILO convention, held in 2011 in Geneva. (International Treaty on Domestic Workers’ Rights to Come into Force Next Year – UN, supra.)

The action by the Philippines on September 5 was hailed by the Director-General of the ILO, Juan Somavia, who said, “[t]oday’s ratification by the Philippines sends a powerful signal to the millions of domestic workers who will be protected when the Convention comes into force. … I hope it will also send a signal to other Member States and that we will soon see more and more countries committing to protect the rights of domestic workers.” (Id.) Under article 21 of the Convention, it becomes effective one year after a second ratification is registered with the Director-General of the ILO. (Convention, art. 21.)

The Convention defines “domestic worker” as anyone “engaged in domestic work within an employment relationship” and excludes from the definition those who perform domestic work “only occasionally or sporadically and not on an occupational basis … .” (Convention, art. 1.) It goes on to specify that nations that are parties to the Convention must insure that domestic workers have the right to freedom of association (including collective bargaining), that child labor and forced labor are eliminated, and that there is no discrimination in employment (art. 3). The Convention further states that domestic workers are entitled to decent living conditions and privacy and that they must be protected from all forms of abuse (arts. 5 & 6). The Convention also provides, among other protections, that each domestic worker should be given at least one 24-hour period of rest each week (art. 10).

After surveying 117 countries, the ILO estimates that there are at least 53 million domestic workers worldwide, although because such employment is often kept hidden, the number could be closer to 100 million. (Landmark Treaty for Domestic Workers to Come into Force, supra.)