International domestic workers' convention becomes law, as Egypt left behind

Ahram Online, Friday 6 Sep 2013

ILO convention comes into force as Egypt domestic workers' union still struggling to take off a year after its creation

The ILO Domestic Workers Convention
The ILO Domestic Workers Convention has been ratified by eight member states so far (Photo: AP)

The International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Domestic Workers Convention came into force on Thursday, becoming binding international law on countries that have signed up to the convention.

The convention, which extends basic labour rights to domestic workers, has so far been ratified by eight ILO member states: Bolivia, Italy, Mauritius, Nicaragua, Paraguay, the Philippines, South Africa and Uruguay.

“Since the convention’s adoption, several countries have passed new laws or regulations improving domestic workers’ labour and social rights, including Venezuela, Bahrain, the Philippines, Thailand, Spain and Singapore,” said the ILO in a statement.

In September 2012, Egypt saw the creation of a union of female domestic workers, an initiative by the Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement (EACPE), which had launched a project to protect domestic workers in 2011.

“The syndicate aims to regulate and establish domestic work, a marginalised and stigmatised occupation, as a profession on par with others,” Abdel-Moneim Mansour, the director of the project and one of the founders of the syndicate, told Ahram Online.

One year after its establishment, the syndicate’s members number a little over 520 women. Mansour believes that the relatively small number of members is a consequence of the stigma surrounding domestic work.

“The syndicate treasurer, for example, has not told her own children that she is a housekeeper,” says Mansour.

Besides literacy courses for its members, the vast majority of whom are unable to read and write, the syndicate has been preparing a draft law on domestic workers’ rights, which it plans to submit to the next parliament.

“The provisions of Egyptian labour law currently exclude domestic workers, a fact which we are looking to remedy,” says Mansour, a labour lawyer.

Asked about why the Egyptian government under ousted president Mohamed Morsi had failed to ratify the ILO convention despite a campaign launched by the syndicate, Mansour pointed to ideological reasons.

“This syndicate is a women’s syndicate, and the previous government was not inclined to favour women in the public sphere,” he argues.

Domestic workers in Egypt are largely female, illiterate, and frequently suffer from verbal and physical abuse and false accusations of theft by their employers, says Mansour.

There are currently at least 53 million domestic workers worldwide, 83 percent of whom are women, not including child domestic workers, which are estimated to number 10.5 million, according to the ILO.

The numbers are hard to determine as most domestic workers are unregistered.

According to an ILO study from January 2013, only ten percent of domestic workers worldwide were covered by general labour legislation to the same extent as other workers, and more than a quarter fell completely outside the scope of national labour legislation.

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