(Manila) – The Philippines’ ratification of the Domestic Workers Convention will bring the groundbreaking international treaty into legal force, promising better working conditions and key labor protections for millions of domestic workers, Human Rights Watch said today. The convention takes effect one year after the second ratification.
The Philippine Senate ratified the instrument today; President Benigno Aquino III signed it on May 18, 2012, following the treaty’s first ratification, by Uruguay, on April 30.
“The Philippines’ ratification of the Domestic Workers Convention means that basic labor rights for domestic workers are finally becoming a reality,” said Nisha Varia, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “As the treaty goes into effect, millions of women and girls will have the chance for better working conditions and better lives.”
The Domestic Workers Convention sets the first global standards for the estimated 50 to 100 million domestic workers worldwide, the vast majority of whom are women and girls. Domestic workers face a wide range of serious abuses and labor exploitation, including excessive working hours without rest, non-payment of wages, forced confinement, physical and sexual abuse, forced labor, and trafficking. Under the treaty, domestic workers are entitled to protections available to other workers, including weekly days off, limits to hours of work, and minimum wage and social security coverage. The convention also obliges governments to protect domestic workers from violence and abuse, and to prevent child labor in domestic work.
The Philippines has approximately two million domestic workers at home and millions more abroad. Remittances from Filipino migrant domestic workers, mostly women, constitute a significant source of the country’s foreign exchange. Filipinos working abroad send home over US$20 billion per year.
Migrant domestic workers are often at heightened risk of exploitation due to excessive recruitment fees, language barriers, and national policies that link workers’ immigration status to individual employers. Human Rights Watch has documented abuses against Filipino migrant domestic workers in Jordan, Lebanon, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Singapore, including beatings, confiscation of passports, confinement to the home, overlong working hours with no days off, and in some cases, months or years of unpaid wages.
The Domestic Workers Convention includes specific provisions to protect migrant domestic workers, including detailed requirements to regulate private employment agencies, investigate complaints, and prohibit the practice of deducting from domestic workers’ salaries to pay recruitment fees. The convention also requires that migrant domestic workers receive a written contract that is enforceable in the country of employment and requires governments to strengthen international cooperation to protect domestic workers.
“The Philippines’ leadership in ratifying the convention sets an important example for other countries,” Varia said. “President Aquino and the Philippine Senate should be commended for the ratification. However, the government should move quickly to adopt national legislation to protect domestic workers at home.”
A draft bill, the Philippines’ Domestic Workers Act (“Kasambahay” bill), would raise the minimum wage for Filipino domestic workers, require a written contract, extend social security, and improve protection from violence and abuse. The draft legislation, originally filed in the mid-1990s, has been designated as “urgent” by President Aquino and was adopted by the Senate in 2010. The House of Representatives is expected to vote on the measure in the coming days.
The Philippines chaired two years of negotiations on the Domestic Workers Convention. Hans Cacdac, director of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, chaired the final negotiations leading up to the convention’s adoption by an overwhelming majority of members of the International Labor Organization at the International Labor Conference on June 16, 2011. The Domestic Workers Convention required two ratifications to enter into legal force.
Human Rights Watch has investigated conditions for domestic workers in over 20 countries around the world, documenting routine exclusions from national labor law, exploitation, and labor and criminal abuses. Domestic workers who are children – nearly 30 percent of the total – and migrants are often the most vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, Human Rights Watch said.