Today, at the International Labor Organization’s 100th annual conference in Geneva Switzerland, the global community took a major collective step towards achieving economic and social justice for some of the world’s most vulnerable workers with the overwhelming adoption of the Decent Work for Domestic Workers Convention and accompanying recommendation.
More than 80 percent of the world’s governments, workers and employers voted in favor of the convention’s adoption, with 90 percent supporting the accompanying recommendation. In practice the convention and recommendation set out basic minimum rights and protections to which domestic workers within countries that ratify the convention are legally entitled. Symbolically, however, these instruments achieve much more.
By shining a global spotlight on domestic work and the conditions in which it is carried out, this convention and recommendation make the invisible visible. Today, for the first time in history, the international community acknowledges that domestic work—work performed in or for private homes—is indeed work. Further, the people who perform this work—overwhelmingly women, migrants and people from historically marginalized communities—are indeed workers, and thus entitled to the same rights and protections all other workers enjoy.
In approximately 40 percent of the world’s nations, the simple recognition of domestic work as work and domestic workers as deserving the same rights and protections that other workers enjoy flies in the face of exclusionary national labor laws and social protection regimes. The United States, unfortunately, is one such country. Domestic workers are excluded, along with farm workers, from the protections afforded to other workers under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the National Labor Relations Act. Today the global community definitively declared that such exclusions undermine the basic human rights of domestic workers.
For domestic workers in the United States, the practical consequences of the passage of this convention and recommendation are not immediately clear. International law does not take effect in a country unless that nation’s government agrees to ratify the law, and the United States very rarely does so. Still, domestic workers in the United States regard the passage of the Decent Work for Domestic Workers convention and recommendation as a major victory. Juana Flores, U.S. worker delegate to the ILO and co-director of Programs at Mujeres Unidas y Activas (Women United and Active) in San Francisco explains its significance for domestic workers in the United States:
This convention strengthens the voice of domestic workers in the United States who continue to organize, mobilize and advocate for the full realization of our basic human rights. As we work to pass a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in California and other states, as we have in New York, we now know we have the support of both the U.S. government and the international community. Knowing this emboldens us and gives us strength to continue fighting for the protections and benefits we, like all workers, deserve.
The AFL-CIO is proud to stand with Juana and the millions of domestic workers both within and outside the United States who have fought for this day for generations. Just last month the AFL-CIO formed a historic partnership with the National Domestic Workers Alliance to work together to advance the voices of all workers. Today as we celebrate this momentous accomplishment we look forward to continuing to work together to make the full fulfillment of the rights of domestic workers a reality.
As Toni Moore, worker delegate from Barbados, expressed so eloquently at the convention’s adoption, “the time is always right to do what’s right,” and “we must not let dignity delayed become dignity denied.” The workers of the world call on our governments to do what’s right and ratify and fully implement the Decent Work for Domestic Workers Convention and Recommendation.
After the vote, the workers unfurled a banner that read “C189. Congratulations! And now for the “domestic work” of governments. RATIFY.” Check out the video here.
About the Auhtor: Liz Shuler was elected AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer in September 2009, the youngest person ever to become an officer of the AFL-CIO. Shuler previously was the highest-ranking woman in the Electrical Workers (IBEW) union, serving as the top assistant to the IBEW president since 2004. In 1993, she joined IBEW Local 125 in Portland, Ore., where she worked as an organizer and state legislative and political director. In 1998, she was part of the IBEW’s international staff in Washington, D.C., as a legislative and political representative.