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South America pushes for domestic workers' rights

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Fri, 14 Dec 2012 15:19 GMT
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By Anastasia Moloney

Wages and working conditions for millions of domestic workers in Argentina and Brazil could soon improve under proposed laws aimed at bolstering their rights.

As in many countries, the current labour laws do not protect domestic workers such as nannies, housekeepers, maids, cooks and cleaners in the same way as other workers.

This means they’re more vulnerable to exploitation, low pay, long working hours and poor working conditions.

But there’s hope for Brazil’s nine million domestic workers.

This month, Brazil’s senate will consider a constitutional amendment, which if passed, would guarantee domestic workers the minimum wage, right to pensions, overtime pay, unemployment insurance, a maximum 44-hour work week, holidays and other benefits. Last month, the amendment bill passed a first vote in Brazil’s chamber of deputies.

Meanwhile, Argentina’s congress is also mulling over a bill to give better protection to the country’s estimated 1.2 million domestic workers.

The bill would limit their working week to 48 hours, oblige employers to pay for overtime and sick leave for up to six months, and provide compensation for unfair dismissal on grounds such as pregnancy and getting married. The Argentine senate approved the bill in late November.

Across the world, there’s a long way to go in improving the labour rights of the estimated 53 to 100 million mostly female domestic workers, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) says.

Carried out behind closed doors, domestic work remains largely invisible, undervalued and poorly regulated, according to the U.N. agency.

In June last year, the ILO adopted Convention 189 called “Decent Work for Domestic Workers”, which requires countries to take steps to improve working conditions for domestic workers.

Since then, only three countries – the Philippines, Uruguay and Mauritius – have ratified the convention.

Belgium, Brazil, Namibia, Norway, and Peru have also expressed an intention to ratify it.

Under the convention, domestic workers are entitled to labour rights other workers enjoy, including weekly days off, limits to working hours, a 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.

Passing laws to protect domestic worker rights is one thing. Implementing them and ensuring employers are fined and prosecuted for breaking the law is quite another matter.

But Argentina and Brazil are taking important steps, making them members of a small club of nations pushing for domestic workers’ rights.


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