Burmese domestic workers are celebrating in Chiang Mai on hearing that on 16 June 2011, the International Labour Organisation adopted Convention 189: Decent Work for Domestic Workers at the 100th Session of the ILO Conference, reports the MAP Foundation.
Said HsengMoon, a domestic worker who has been working in Thailand for nearly 10 years, “Well, I know that I’ve been working for many years, but now everybody knows that it was work! And hopefully that means we, domestic workers, will get some respect now.” There were 396 votes in favour, 16 against and 63 abstentions.
The draft Convention includes setting standards for working and living conditions, and guaranteeing domestic workers the right to collective bargaining. If Thailand adjusts its laws to comply with this Convention it will make a huge difference to the lives of domestic workers who currently face daily exploitation and abuse at work.
The following stories were told to MAP Foundation as we collected information for our upcoming report “Stepping into the Light”.
“I started work as a domestic worker as soon as I arrived in Chiang Mai. My employer did not allow me to sit during working hours and forced me to work all the time. The worst part is I had no time to go to the toilet and if I tried the employer shouted at me through the door. Although I worked 12 hours per day, she paid me very little and I had no holiday. Finally I couldn’t withstand the conditions any longer so I left.”
Ma Myo, another domestic worker, experienced similar exploitation in Phang Nga: “I had difficulty in communicating with my employer because of the language barrier. I had to help in the kitchen, cleaning the three-storey house up and down for the whole day. I had to wake up at 5.00am and work for the whole day until 9.00pm. Then I also had to massage the employer every night and went to bed after 10.00pm. I got only 2500 baht for my monthly salary. I worked there for over one year. They also deducted 500 Baht out of my salary for my work permit. I couldn’t bear the burden any longer, so I left the house.”
All ILO Conventions are said to protect all workers including migrants, but this one has also added a special clause to guarantee this protection calling on members to cooperate with each other to ensure the effective application of the provision of the convention for migrant domestic workers. Also of particular importance to migrant domestic workers is Article 9 which calls on members to ensure that domestic workers are entitled to keep possession of their travel and identity documents. (Report IV (2B) Decent Work for Domestic Workers, ILO 100th Session 2011).
Domestic workers in Thailand will be watching carefully to see how the Royal Thai Government plans to move forward and will be offering their assistance to help make a reality Article 8, which calls on members to take measures to ensure that domestic workers enjoy effective protection against all forms of abuse, harassment and violence. A protection sadly lacking today and desperately needed to prevent situations like these from happening in the future:
One young migrant domestic worker was employed in a luxurious apartment in Bangkok by a Thai man. Six domestic workers had already run away from his employment. The man, paralysed from the waist down, made his assistant rape her while he watched. He also made the assistant beat her, spit on her face, urinate on her, and push her. During the working day, she was only allowed to crawl on her knees and was forced to do so until her knees were swollen.
In June 2010 with assistance from local organisations she managed to escape.
Another young woman told “Stepping into the Light” of her experience in Phang Nga: “I came out to Thailand with my husband and worked as a domestic worker in a household. I worked in the house without receiving any break while the gardener had the opportunity to take a rest from time-to-time. The employer said the housework was not so difficult or hard as to require rest. I was given US$67 (2000 bahts) for my salary while the gardener received US$83 (2500 bahts). One day the employer sexually harassed me, so I told my husband and left the job.”
MAP Foundation together with the network of domestic workers congratulates the Royal Thai Government and all members of the ILO on realising an important, ground breaking piece of international legislation which has the potential to bring an end to the exploitation and abuse that domestic workers have faced for so long.
We sincerely hope that the Royal Thai Government will move quickly to make the necessary changes to the national laws and policies to protect local and migrant domestic workers in Thailand. We also hope that the Royal Thai Government will dedicate time and resources to raising awareness among domestic workers and the employers of domestic workers about the labour rights and protections guaranteed in the ILO Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers.
For more information, visit http://www.mapfoundationcm.org/