Carribeans-Domestic workers from across the Caribbean have come together to establish a network dedicated to advancing efforts to ensure that the work of domestic workers is recognised as valid work alongside other catergories of work, and that these employees are treated with dignity and respect.
The launch of The Caribbean Domestic Workers Network came out of a two-day meeting, 13–14 November 2011 at the Barbados Workers’ Union Labour College, and builds on the determined efforts of the National Union of Domestic Employees (NUDE) of Trinidad and Tobago and the Jamaica Household Workers’ Association (JHWA) who have long lobbied for a comprehensive improvement in the treatment of domestic workers.
Given that domestic work takes place in private households and there are no comprehensive national accounts of the total numbers of household workers and their contribution to the country’s gross domestic product, domestic work has been categorised as “invisible work”. However, ILO estimates domestic workers to represent 3% of the global workforce. A study carried out in Jamaica shows that while official government statistics cite 203 registered household workers for 2010, country estimates put the figure of domestic workers at close to 60,000 employees.
This important initiative comes at a time when there is a wider global commitment to ensuring that this category of workers, mostly women who are marginalised, can access standard workplace rights. In July 2011, the ILO Convention 189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers was adopted. This Convention sets out that domestic workers around the world who care for families and households, must have the same basic labour rights as those available to other workers: reasonable hours of work, clear information on terms and conditions of employment, respect for fundamental principles, and rights at work including freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.
In its work, the Network will emphasise the need for Caribbean states to ratify the ILO Convention and to ensure its implementation in national laws and policies, and will pay particular attention to ensuring that the administrative requirements are put in place to ensure the free movement of domestic employees as is guaranteed under the CSME.
The mission of the Network, which builds on the efforts of organisations such as the National Union of Domestic Employees of Trinidad and Tobago, the Jamaica Household Workers Association and Red Thread in Guyana, is:
We envision a just Caribbean society in which domestic workers have their right to freedom of movement and work within the region respected, where domestic workers enjoy the conditions of decent work, consistent with ILO Convention 189: a living wage, social protection, and freedom of association, collective bargaining and other labour rights.
To respect, support and protect the interests of all Caribbean domestic workers by:
Participants at the meeting were drawn from NUDE, the JHWA and regional trade unions including the Barbados Workers Union, women’s organisations and representatives of regional and international development organisations.
Supported by agencies such as the ILO and UN Women, the Network will be an important vehicle for domestic workers to express their collective demands for decent work, that is, productive work, in conditions of freedom and equity. Through its efforts, the Network hopes to build a larger societal commitment to security in the work place and to human dignity.