International Domestic Workers Day 2018

Domestic work is the work that makes all other work possible. And yet, for many decades, and perhaps many centuries, it was simply ‘women’s work’: unpaid, unrecognized, and unvalued.

The adoption by the International Labour Conference, on 16 June 2011, of ILO Convention No. 189 and Recommendation No. 201 concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers, was an historic step in the struggle for social justice worldwide. It was the culmination of several decades of domestic workers’ organizations and trade unions campaigning to end exclusion, and gain recognition for the rights of domestic workers.

This year marks the seven-year anniversary of that momentous day. During this period, 25 countries have ratified the Convention, many more have introduced new legislation to protect domestic workers, or have improved existing laws and practices; while domestic workers’ organizations worldwide have continued to grow strong and raise their voice. Yet, the struggle for decent work for domestic workers continues. This year’s theme for International Domestic Workers Day on ending violence and harassment at work, was based on the discussions at the International Labour Conference in May/June this year. These discussions between governments, employers and workers’ organizations in Geneva reflected on the vulnerability of
domestic workers who work ‘behind closed doors and high walls, [in] a type of isolation that placed them at risk of daily abuse’, 1 and agreed to work towards better protection of workers, including through the adoption of standards to take the form of a Convention supplemented by a Recommendation.

Domestic workers make a vital economic and social contribution to Kuwait, supporting the care of children during critical stages of development, enabling the elderly to live with dignity, and relieving nationals of their domestic and care responsibilities. There are more than 570,000 domestic workers in Kuwait, and while important progress has been made to support their rights (including the Kuwaiti law No. 68 of 2015 on domestic work), there continue to be cases of non-payment of wages, unfair recruitment practices, and workers forced into a situation of irregularity through no fault of their own -such as when escaping violence or harassment.

Tackling these issues is in the interests of both employers and workers. Both can enjoy a harmonious relationship, provided that there is safe and transparent recruitment, good quality skills development and job matching (for both employers and workers), and streamlined systems of dispute resolution. Most importantly, there must be measures in place to penalize all forms of violence and harassment against domestic workers, including any actions that result in physical, psychological, sexual or economic harm.

This requires recognition of the fact that delayed or non-payment of wages, refusing a workers’ right to a full weekly day off, and other contraventions of the Kuwaiti labour law are not ‘minor’ breaches, but urgent areas for enforcement.

The establishment of the Sandigan Kuwait Domestic Workers Association marks a positive development in supporting the rights of Filipina domestic workers, which we hope will lead to a beneficial change to all domestic workers in Kuwait.

Sophia Kagan, Chief Technical Adviser (FAIRWAY Project)
International Labour Organization, Office for Arab States

1 Statement by International Domestic Workers’ Federation representative.

local News Paper Published: July 6, 2018

Message from Email dated June 18, 2018, 3:22pm AST