Government to assist exploited domestic workers

KINGSTON, Jamaica: Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator Marlene Malahoo Forte, says government will be responding to the plight of domestic workers who are being exploited and paid poor wages and excluded from social and labour protection.

Speaking at a forum last week on “Migrant Domestic Workers at the Interface of Migration and Development: Action to Expand Good Practice”, organized by the Planning Institute of Jamaica in collaboration with United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women (UN Women) and the International Organization for Migration, she said those trends had to be reversed.

The Minister, who is also in charge of Diaspora affairs, said Jamaica plans to deal with the issues, while developing a national policy and plan of action on international migration and development.

Malahoo Forte said that while Jamaica has not yet ratified the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) convention on decent work for domestic care workers, it is under review. She also noted that a national employment policy is being pursued by the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, and should be completed in 2013.

In her address at the forum, Global Migration Advisor for UN Women, Dr. Jean D’Cunha, said pointed domestic work is poorly regulated, and exacerbates exploitation and abuse of workers, “because it’s not considered work, because it is privatized, isolated, performed by women, and it is considered a labour of love requiring no special skill”.

“So, we really need to regulate the sector and protect and promote the rights of domestic workers. Governments need to do this, because it is a fulfillment of their national commitment to gender equality, to women’s empowerment, and to promoting the human rights and labour rights of workers,” she said.

Dr. D’Cunha said the sector is poised for expansion, and that governments need to maximize the development potential of migration by regulating the sector.

“By protecting workers, hopefully we will be contributing to a reduction in undocumented work, undocumented movement, and a reduction in (human) trafficking,” she said. “Employers (in the U.S.) have stated that regulating the sector perhaps helps them to be better and more responsible employers, because decent work requires decent employers.”

The ILO recently adopted the convention on domestic workers, which includes international standards to improve the working conditions of domestic care workers worldwide, estimated to be between 53 million and 100 million. Women comprise 83 per cent of these worker, and 92 per cent are living and working in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Malahoo Forte also highlighted the inclusion of household workers as a category under the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) labour regime’s free movement policy as a positive development in the region, as it recognizes the need to create opportunities for their engagement in gainful economic activity.

She lauded the contribution of domestic care workers to the communities in which they live, including those who contribute through their remittances.

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