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International labor body passes new convention to protect rights of domestic workers

The International Labor Organization (ILO) [official website] adopted a new convention [text, PDF] at its annual conference in Geneva Thursday to protect domestic workers' labor rights. The 100 Session of the International Labor Conference [official website] came to a close Friday. The convention sets standards for domestic workers in line with basic labor rights as those for other workers, including reasonable work hours, weekly rest of at least 24 consecutive hours, a limit on in-kind payment, clear information on terms and conditions of employment, including other basic rights such as freedom of association and collective bargaining. In the introductory text, the convention says it was passed:

[r]ecognizing the significant contribution of domestic workers to the global economy, which includes increasing paid job opportunities for women and men workers with family responsibilities, greater scope for caring for ageing populations, children and persons with a disability, and substantial income transfers within and between countries, and ... domestic work continues to be undervalued and invisible and is mainly carried out by women and girls, many of whom are migrants or members of disadvantaged communities and who are particularly vulnerable to discrimination in respect of conditions of employment and of work, and to other abuses of human rights, and... that in developing countries with historically scarce opportunities for formal employment, domestic workers constitute a significant proportion of the national workforce and remain among the most marginalized.
The convention must still be ratified by the countries joining it for it to be binding. It is unlikely that the US will ratify [ABC News report] the treaty since for the most part labor laws are controlled by the states. The US has only ratified two of the ILO's 189 conventions.

Last September, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] released a report saying Lebanon should improve its judicial system [JURIST report] by providing mechanisms to better protect the basic rights of domestic workers and more ardently prosecuting those who violate them. Earlier last year, the ILO reiterated its call on the international community to take a "rights based approach" [JURIST report] to international migration. The group said that 90 percent of the migration that occurs is driven by the search for employment and that countries should seek to provide "conditions of freedom, dignity, equity and security," to migrant workers. It said that under the right conditions migrant workers, could provide benefits to both their countries of employment and origin, but that they currently face low wages, discrimination, and a lack of social or legal protection. In 2008, HRW reported that migrant and domestic workers still face abusive and exploitative treatment [JURIST report] throughout Asia and the Middle East. The rights group observed that workers in many nations throughout the region lacked access to judicial systems, and often lacked appropriate redress even when granted access. Earlier that year, HRW urged Saudi Arabia [JURIST report] to institute new legal protections for the country's estimated 1.5 million domestic workers.

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