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by James Parks, Jun 17, 2010

Photo credit: radiocallejera  
  Domestic workers in New York City marched for justice in 2007.  

The International Labor Organization (ILO) this week took a giant step forward in the fight to create workplace justice for the millions of housekeepers, nannies and other domestic workers around the world. At its International Labor Conference, which ends in Geneva tomorrow, the ILO began the process to establish a first-ever international standard (”convention”) to protect the rights of domestic workers.

If the convention is passed at the ILO’s meeting in 2011, it would require governments that ratify it to ensure domestic workers are covered by the fundamental rights and principles of the ILO, which include the freedom to form unions, elimination of forced labor, abolition of child labor and the elimination of discrimination.

Employers would be responsible for making sure workers are informed of the agreed terms and conditions of work, preferably through a written contract. The terms would include the work to be performed, pay, normal hours of work, provisions of food and accommodation.

It also would make clear that domestic workers could decide voluntarily whether to live in the employer’s home and the terms should be negotiated. Workers should retain their travel and identity documents. They would be protected against all forms of abuse and harassment.

Around the world, domestic workers are routinely victims of exploitation, from wage theft to verbal and sexual abuse.

Both the AFL-CIO and the Obama administration are behind the effort to establish a new standard for domestic workers: The AFL-CIO even opened up some of its delegate seats for domestic workers to be part of the delegation to the ILO conference.

One of those delegates, Juana Flores, a member of the U.S.-based National Domestic Workers Alliance, says if the convention is approved, “domestic workers, for the first time, will no longer be invisible and unrecognized.”

Domestic work will be recognized as work equal to any other, where we will have the same opportunities. Things don’t end here, we’ve just begun. Over the next year there is a lot of work to do in the United States. We will need active participation throughout the country, marching and doing other activities, so that the government and employers see that we will not stop until there is justice for domestic workers.

In the United States, domestic workers have few rights. They were not even covered by minimum wage laws until 1974. Earlier this month, the New York Senate passed landmark legislation extending basic workplace rights to more than 200,000 domestic workers in the state. The state Assembly passed a similar bill last year and lawmakers must reconcile the differences in the bills. The new law would take effect Jan. 1.

Flores says domestic workers and their allies must remain vigilant to ensure that whatever passes at the ILO in 2011 is implemented in the Unites States.

We will need to push to ensure they comply with all they have said with their words.

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