Urging ratification, UN slavery expert welcomes pact on domestic workers

20 June 2011

A United Nations specialist on slavery today welcomed the adoption by the International Labour Organization (ILO) of a convention aimed at the protection of millions of domestic workers worldwide, a majority of whom are women and girls.

Gulnara Shahinian, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, said: “Paid domestic work, where the workers’ rights are respected and protected, provides a valuable contribution to society. This convention recognizes the rights of domestic workers and contributes significantly to combating domestic servitude.”

The Convention on Domestic Workers, adopted at the annual conference of the UN International Labour Organization (ILO) in Geneva last week, states that workers around the world who care for families and households must have the same basic labour rights as those available to other employees.

“As with many other forms of slavery, domestic servitude occurs in the shadows of many informal economies. This is the first time that the protection of rights is being extended to work that has been regarded as informal," Ms. Shahinian said. “Speedy ratification of the convention will restore dignity to the many men, women and children doing such work, and to the work they perform.”

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) defines domestic servitude or slavery as a situation where a vulnerable individual is forced, by physical or moral coercion, to work without any real financial reward, is deprived of his or her liberty, and is in circumstances contrary to human dignity.

Children are particularly vulnerable to domestic servitude, especially if they live with their employers or migrate on their own to find domestic work. The majority of these children are girls.

The new convention calls for reasonable hours of work, weekly rest of at least 24 consecutive hours, a limit on in-kind payment, clear information on terms and conditions of employment, as well as respect of the rights associated with employment, including the freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.

Recent ILO estimates place the number of domestic workers at a minimum of 53 million, but experts say they could be as many as 100 million across the world.

Ms. Shahinian, who serves in an unpaid and independent capacity, reports to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

 

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