Human rights for migrant domestic workers

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KUALA LUMPUR, 10 Dec 2009: As the world marks International Human Rights Day today, CARAM Asia launches an online petition campaign seeking crucial support and commitment from every employer of households to grant a weekly paid day off to their migrant domestic worker (MDW). From today onwards, the online campaign will be featured for 30 days on the major media online sites based in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, and the Middle East:

A simple click is all is needed to grant a basic fundamental right to one of the most vulnerable group of human beings today. Petition here.

On this occasion of International Human Rights Day, CARAM Asia a regional network of 34 NGOs and trade unions across 17 countries in Asia, makes the call to governments across the globe to respect the rights and dignity of migrant workers especially domestic workers.

We urge governments especially host countries that employ migrant labour to amend restrictive legislation to include provisions and minimum labour standards for domestic workers.

We further call upon all employers, as important non state actors, to recognise that the time has come to put all poor practices aside and accord migrant workers, especially domestic workers (MDWs) a weekly paid day off from work.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimated that there are more than a million women who engage in domestic work worldwide. There are over 300,000 MDWs in Malaysia, about 70,000 in Bahrain, and more than 200,000 respectively in Singapore, Thailand and Lebanon.

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The statistics continue to alarm us. In the past five months, three Indonesian migrant workers were tortured to death by their Malaysian employers. In Lebanon, at least 10 women have died, either by hanging themselves or by falling from tall buildings over the past two months, in desperation to escape.

CARAM Asia’s member in Singapore, the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) respond to more than 3,000 calls in a year on their helpline for migrant workers. All the MDWs in those cases suffer from some form of mental abuse. They are overworked without any rest days; employers breach contractual obligations and placed them on debt bondage. Such complaints usually result in repatriation without any form of compensation for the exploited worker.

A weekly paid day off for MDWs will not only prevent suicides, gender-based violence and torture, most importantly it will grant an opportunity for tortured MDWs to escape abuse or exploitation.

Such a move will act as a progression in line with international labour and human rights standards: 186 countries have adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw) and are therefore bound by its terms. The General Comment 26 of the Cedaw Convention acknowledges that domestic work should be protected by labour laws and entitled to holiday and vacation leave regulations.

Next year, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) will start working on the process of adopting a new minimum labour standard for domestic workers that could possibly lead to a new specific Domestic Workers Convention. With the international community moving towards acknowledging the labour rights of domestic workers, we urge governments of host countries to develop minimum standards of human rights for these workers and strongly urge employers across the Asian continuum to move away from the slavery practice of binding workers to work without a day off.

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CARAM Asia is NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. It is an open network of NGOs and CBOs, consisting of 34 members covering 17 countries in Asia and the Middle East. Visit www.caramasia.org for more information on CARAM Asia.

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