Reaching the Light

By Carissa Smith
July 5, 2011

Upcoming Events

July 15 – New CCAO E-Newsletter distributed

July 18 – Columban Advocates Conference Call (join the Columban Advocates at groups.google.com/group/columbanadvocates)

July 29 – Summer Advocacy Internship ends, read their blog

August 9 – International Day for the World’s Indigenous People

August 15 – Deadline to apply for October Mission Exposure Trip to China

Historic Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers

On June 21, 2011, we were alerted to good news about domestic workers from Fr. Peter O’Neill, SSC, who was attending the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) annual conference.  He announced that on June 16 they celebrated the adoption of the convention on decent work for domestic workers, which was overwhelmingly voted for by governments, trade unions, and employers’ organizations who make up the ILO. This revolutionary treaty will extend key labor protections to domestic workers and will protect millions of people who have gone without guarantees of their basic rights, according to Human Rights Watch.

The convention establishes the first global standards for the estimated 50 to 100 million domestic workers worldwide, the vast majority of whom are women and girls. Previously, they were vulnerable to countless abuses and labor exploitation such as excessive working hours without rest, non-payment of wages, forced confinement, physical and sexual abuse, forced labor and trafficking. According to the ILO, children make up nearly 30 percent of the world’s domestic workers. Given that national child labor laws do not include domestic workers children can thus work for long hours at young ages with no legal repercussions to employers.  Moreover, as a result of being separated from their families and having a near-total dependence on their employers, these young workers are highly vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse. The exclusion of domestic workers from protection under the law left almost no concrete means of securing justice for this population of workers.

Essential components of the convention mandate governments to provide domestic workers with labor protections equal to those of other workers, including working hours, minimum wage coverage, overtime compensation, daily and weekly rest periods, social security, and maternity protection. In addition, the new standards require governments to protect workers from violence and abuse, and to ensure effective monitoring and enforcement. Furthermore, the convention requires that governments set a minimum age for domestic work and to guarantee that work by those above that age does not interfere with their education; as well as limiting working hours and prohibiting domestic work that would harm their health, safety, or morals.

In our work of changing structures to change lives, the journey is long and arduous, often times with more letdowns than successes. This victory has come after a 63 year long struggle of faithful souls who have kept their eyes on the light at the end of the dark tunnel of injustice for domestic workers. Our work now turns to ensuring that this historic convention is not only recognized on paper, but most importantly, recognized in practice all around the world.

NOTE: If you are interested in articles like this one describing our social justice advocacy, please register to receive the new CCAO monthly e-newsletter. The inaugural issue will be distributed on July 15, 2011. Go to the home page for the Columban.org website and register your email in the “stay up-to-date” section, or click here to sign up.