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Celebrating Domestic Workers’ Day

Who drove you to work this morning?
Who is taking care of your children while you are at work?
Who is cleaning your house while you are reading this article?
How could you get by with you busy life without your driver, your kids’ nanny and your cleaner?

Today, June 16, is Domestic Workers’ Day, the anniversary of the adoption of the ILO Convention concerning decent work for domestic workers (No 189) in 2011. It’s an important day to reflect on what domestic workers bring to Cambodian society and to remind ourselves of the importance of treating domestic workers fairly and with respect for their rights as workers.

Convention 189 provides minimum standards for domestic workers across the world, with regard to decent employment and working conditions – basic protection such as regular hours, fair pay, occupational health and safety standards, freedom of association and access to social security.

The convention entered into force in 2013 and has now been ratified by 20 countries. However, only one of these – the Philippines – is in ASEAN, despite over 40 per cent of the world’s domestic workers living in the Asia-Pacific region.

Currently in Cambodia, an estimated 250,000 workers are employed in domestic work and are not protected by the Labour Law. This makes domestic workers more vulnerable to abuse, exploitation, forced labour and human trafficking. This vulnerability applies equally to domestic workers within Cambodia and those working overseas as migrants.

Excluding domestic workers from the Labour Law also means not recognising domestic work as work, and overlooking the positive impact of domestic work on the social and economic development of Cambodia.

For example, by employing a domestic worker, women, who traditionally assume the responsibility of taking care of the household, can enjoy greater access to the job market, accepting higher paid and nontraditional work. Like all women’s work, this movement into the formal economy contributes to greater gender equality.

This year, we have reason to look forward positively. Cambodia began a series of consultations and workshops with government, workers’ and employers’ representatives and civil society organisations to draft a roadmap towards ratification of Convention 189.

During this process, all stakeholders agreed in principle to the ratification of the convention, bringing Cambodia up to the international standard. There is a need for a change to national legislation including the Labour Law, before the Convention is ratified, to allow for effective implementation of the provisions outlined in the convention.

The process will be challenging but, nonetheless, necessary to see the rights of domestic workers recognised in Cambodia as well as overseas.

We hope that this work is prioritised by the relevant ministries and that Cambodia will be able to see in next year’s Domestic Workers Day as the newest state party to Convention 189. But you don’t need to wait for the
Cambodian government before making changes to benefit domestic workers in your community.

Think about the difference your domestic worker makes to your life, and how you reflect their rights as workers (such as weekly rest, fair wage and regular work hours) in your home. What can you do today for your domestic worker to celebrate their contribution?

Anna Olsen is the technical officer with the ILO’s Tripartite Action to Promote the Rights of Migrant Workers within and from the Greater Mekong Sub-Region (GMS TRIANGLE) project.

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