Rights for domestic workers
23 July 2012
Often they live in luxurious homes with nice furniture and several cars in the garage. There is a house in the country for weekends. But they’re starving.
Oxana was struggling to get by as a cleaner in Belgium. Caritas helped her to get home to Ukraine and find work.
Each year, thousands of women leave impoverished places like Nepal and fly to Lebanon, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and other countries to become live-in housemaids. They work long, hard hours, hoping they’ll earn enough money to support the families they have had to leave at home.
Some are treated well. But others have abusive employers. The maids cook for the family. Then the kitchen cabinets are locked, the refrigerator is locked and the door to get outside is locked.
“I ate rotten fruit and four-day-old leftovers,” said Fay,* a maid from the Philippines who lived in Beirut. “ They would give me one small piece of cheese once a day,” said Rekha, a girl from Nepal who also lived in Lebanon.
Daily hunger is not all these women face. Some maids are raped or are so badly beaten they become disabled. Caritas members have reached out to abused domestic workers. Caritas provides shelters so women will be safe and legal aid so they can seek justice. Caritas also offers women training to give them other employment options.
But until governments recognise that domestic workers need special laws to protect them and these laws are enforced, the abuse will continue. In June 2011, thanks to the campaigning work of Caritas and other charities, the International Labour Organisation adopted Convention 189 with joint Recommendation 201 – a major breakthrough in making sure that domestic workers are treated with respect and that their employers are held accountable if they are not. Convention 189 includes provisions such as the regulation of international recruitment agencies and written job descriptions and contracts.
Some national Caritas in Latin America – such as Caritas Uruguay – strongly supported the Caritas campaign by using an advocacy card created by Caritas Internationalis and by mentioning the campaign in their publications. Uruguay has ratified the Convention. Caritas is part of a network lobbying other countries to do the same.
*All names have been changed.