Aim ILO Convention PR at public, household helpers alike

Tuesday, March 11, 2014    

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WE welcome the announcement by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller last Friday that the Government will ratify the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 189.

The convention, which became binding international law on September 5, 2013, essentially extends basic labour rights to domestic workers worldwide.

The prime minister, we note, did not say when the convention would be ratified. However, we expect that given her passion for women's affairs, and especially improving the welfare of workers, Mrs Simpson Miller will use her political clout to get the matter dealt with quickly.

For we had thought that Jamaica would have already passed this stage when last year June Labour and Social Security Minister Derrick Kellier assured guests attending the World Day Against Child Labour forum that the issue was a priority for the Government.

"We have not abandoned the ratification process, and in truth, it is very high on the Government's agenda," Minister Kellier said then.

It appears, therefore, that last week's announcement by the Ministry of Labour and Social Security that it has launched a media campaign to gain public support for household workers' rights is in keeping with that commitment.

The chief technical officer in the ministry, Mr Errol Miller, in making that revelation, told guests at the campaign launch that Jamaica's ratification of the convention depended on legislative support.

That process, as we reiterate, needs to be treated with great importance, for it is no secret that domestic workers are still being subjected to harsh and unfair working conditions.

It is a matter that is particularly shameful for Jamaica, given the raft of social legislation that was introduced and approved here in the 1970s that made the island a model for the international community.

For us to be now hearing, in 2014, that there are domestic workers who do not benefit from social protection, such as government pension, and National Housing Trust contributions, is just not cutting it.

The information shared by Ms Shirley Pryce, executive director of the Jamaica Household Workers Union, at last week's media campaign launch is a bit encouraging but, in greater part, distressing.

According to Ms Pryce: "While many domestic workers work in adequate surroundings and are paid in line with the Government's directives on the minimum wage, far too many do not experience the level of decency and respect that should be extended to every human being."

But, even as we encourage speedy ratification of the convention with its accompanying legislation, we must emphasise the importance of enforcement of the law and the terms of the convention.

For, if that is lacking, household workers will continue to be abused by employers who have no conscience. Hopefully, the labour ministry's campaign will go a far way in sensitising Jamaicans to the fact that household, or domestic workers, are entitled to the same rights as every worker, and that treating them as fellow human beings is the decent thing to do.

May we suggest that the campaign be targeted also to household helpers themselves, many of whom are said to oppose the idea of employers deducting NHT and NIS from their wages.





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