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Uruguay: First to Ratify Domestic Workers Convention

Groundbreaking Treaty to Protect Millions of Women and Girls Worldwide

(New York) – Uruguay’s move to be the first country to ratify the international Domestic Workers Convention brings long overdue protections closer to reality for millions of women and girls worldwide, Human Rights Watch said today. The treaty, which extends core labor rights to an estimated 50 to 100 million domestic workers, will come into legal force when it is ratified by two countries.

Governments, trade unions, and employers’ organizations that make up the International Labor Organization (ILO) overwhelmingly voted to adopt the Domestic Workers Convention – ILO Convention 189 Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers – on June 16, 2011. The convention requires governments to provide housekeepers, nannies, and other caregivers with labor protections equivalent to those of other workers, protect them against harassment and violence, and ensure effective monitoring and enforcement.

“Uruguay deserves great credit for taking the lead to make these new standards a reality for women and girls,” said Jo Becker, children’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “Other governments should also ratify and implement the convention as quickly as possible to show their commitment to dignity and rights for domestic workers.”

The Uruguayan Senate approved ratification of the Domestic Workers Convention on April 25, 2012, after the House of Representatives approved it on April 11. The president issued an executive decree ratifying the convention on April 30. Uruguay’s ratification process will be complete when the government deposits its instrument of ratification with the ILO.

Uruguay has 120,000 domestic workers. The government adopted a strong national law in 2006 to protect the rights of domestic workers, which includes provisions for an eight-hour workday, adequate food and housing for live-in domestic workers, and safeguards for domestic workers terminated because of pregnancy.

“Uruguay has shown itself a global leader in setting standards for domestic workers’ rights,” Becker said. “As it sets an example for other countries, it should also ensure its laws are enforced and bring concrete improvements in the working conditions of Uruguayan domestic workers.”

In many parts of the world, domestic workers have few rights under the law. Many routinely work for extremely long hours with little rest, seven days a week, for months on end. Domestic workers are typically grossly underpaid, often making far below the minimum wage. Some are never paid at all. Working in private homes, domestic workers are often at heightened risk of physical and sexual abuse. Children, who make up nearly 30 percent of domestic workers, and migrant domestic workers, are the most vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

The convention requires governments to provide domestic workers with labor protections equivalent to those of other workers, including for working hours, minimum wage coverage, overtime compensation, daily and weekly rest periods, social security, and maternity protection. It also includes specific protections for children, requiring governments to establish a minimum age for domestic work and ensuring that domestic work by children above that age does not interfere with their education.

“Now that Uruguay has taken the laudable step of becoming the first country to ratify, we are waiting to see which country will be the second, to bring the convention into force,” Becker said.

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