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Labour ministry launches campaign for domestic workers' rights

Friday, March 07, 2014    

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THE Ministry of Labour and Social Security has launched a media campaign aimed at engendering widespread support for the rights of household workers in Jamaica.

The campaign comes as members of the Jamaica Household Workers Union increased calls for the Government to ratify the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 189, Advancing Decent Work for Domestic Workers.

Chief technical officer in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security Errol Miller said the matter has been sent to the Attorney General's Chambers for an opinion as to whether a recommendation can be made for the Government to ratify the Convention.

He was addressing the UN Women/Ministry of Labour and Social Security 'Advancing Decent Work for Household Workers' C189 Media campaign launch on Tuesday at the Jamaica Employers' Federation offices in Kingston.

Miller said ratification of ILO Convention 189 was dependent on Jamaica bringing its laws in sync with those of the Convention. "What it means is that after we have ratified the convention we have to report to the ILO on what we have been doing; you cannot report and say that your laws are not supporting it, so what happens is that we have to ensure that the laws support the Convention, then we ratify it and then we ensure that everything is in order so that when we make the report, the laws are there to back up what we are doing," Miller said.

He assured that the ministry was "doing everything possible to see to it that the Convention is ratified as soon as possible".

The labour ministry has been working with the Jamaica Employers' Federation, Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions, Jamaica Household Workers Union and other stakeholders to get the Government to ratify the ILO Convention 189. The Convention is an agreement to protect the rights of male and female household workers around the world. Governments which sign the convention agree to change local laws and take actions to protect the rights of these workers.

Miller explained that a grant from the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) to the labour ministry was used to fund, among other things, a baseline study of domestic workers in Jamaica; seminars among domestic workers on adoption of the ILO Convention 189 and its advancement towards ratification; and a gap analysis to compare Jamaica's legislation to the terms of the Convention to determine what legislative amendments are needed to reconcile the two.

Consultant Dr Leith Dunn, of the Institute of Gender and Development Studies at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, said the baseline study found that most of the laws needed are in place but some should be amended to ensure consistency.

She also pointed out that one of the main findings is that there is no system of registration for household workers in Jamaica, noting that the Economic and Social Survey of Jamaica estimates that there are between 58,000 to 100,000 such workers.

She noted that one of the recommendations is for a comprehensive registration of household workers and that the Statistical Institute of Jamaica be asked to develop a category to capture the data.

Dr Dunn informed that many household workers are vulnerable, as they have no form of social protection such as government pension, and National Housing Trust contributions.

She further pointed to the fact that a majority of household workers have no written contract, which could lead to abuse.

In the meantime, Executive Director of the Jamaica Household Workers Union Shirley Pryce said since last year her organisation has increased its membership from 1,200 to 3,600.

"We are now registered as a trade union. We moved from five chapters to 11 chapters islandwide. We have been doing capacity building and institutional strengthening," she said.

"... Today I can safely say to the world that in this workforce, the domestic worker is finally coming out of the shadows. We are now a force to be reckoned with worldwide. It is, therefore, a great opportunity to say to the Government of Jamaica to ratify the ILO Convention," Pryce said.

She said, too, that the struggles for the recognition of the rights of domestic workers have been longstanding. "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. Protection for domestic workers is long overdue. People turn a blind eye to the domestic worker issue. We have had enough hurt and it is time for us to be heard. Today is one bigger step to a long overdue journey," she said.

According to the convention, a household worker is "a male or female employed in a household doing work such as washing, cleaning, cooking, gardening, caring for children, the elderly or the sick, or looking after household pets".

The convention protects the household workers' rights to join a workers union; choose their job and not be forced to work; mandates respect for their occupation; and sets a minimum age for work, which is not before age 15.

It also advocates protection from abuse and harassment and violence; fair and decent working conditions, decent living conditions for live-in helpers; clear terms and references of employment; vacation and sick leave, rest periods (for live-in workers); how employment can be ended, and a notice period for employer or employee.

— JIS

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