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When can we call the new ILO Convention for Domestic Workers a Success?

Governments will need to take action to raise standards and ratify the Convention

by Alison Liu

On June 16, 2011, the U.N International Labor Organization (ILO) passed an international bill of rights for domestic workers, a Convention titled “Decent Work for Domestic Workers.” Around the world, domestic workers are the 10th largest employment sector, with at least 100 million people in the industry. Yes few labor laws protect domestic workers in the United States. For example, the primary federal labor law in the U.S., the Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA), excludes domestic workers from guaranteed overtime pay. If they are employed as a companion to the elderly, scratch minimum wages as well. The new bill of rights seeks to fix this problem.

The treaty states that domestic workers should have the same protections as other any other type of worker. Cleaning floors is “work” just as much as sitting behind a desk on a computer; things we office workers take for granted, such as weekly days off, limits to hours of work, and a minimum wage would finally extend to domestic workers as well.  The Philippines was one of the first governments to issue a statement --its Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said yesterday that the Philippines is “elated” over the adoption. Despite the praise, as advocates we always wonder whether we can expect empty, symbolic praise, or actual concrete changes.

History shows that symbolic acts are sometimes the most dangerous kind of legislation because they hide the government’s inaction. Governments around the world must do the harder task- ratifying and enforcing the treaty. The U.S. should take a lead by changing the FLSA to include more protections for domestic workers. At the state level, U.S. states should use the treaty’s media attention to push for fairer labor rights for domestic workers. Not least of all, the U.S. needs to give more funding to the Wage and Hour Division to enforce existing standards, however minimal. If the government does not seriously consider such actions, the Convention will be little more than a banging cymbal.



What the treaty covers: http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2011/06/16/ilo-new-landmark-treaty-protect-domestic-workers

Questions the conclusions of the treaty: http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/international-labor-organization-passes-domestic-workers-rights-bill/story?id=13856422


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