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Joint Declaration on Celebrating May Day 2010 as “Asian Domestic Workers’ Day” 1 May 2010

“We are not begging for special treatment. We, domestic workers, are claiming our basic rights. We are demanding equal treatment and proper recognition as workers and members of society. We will continue to fight abuses and exploitation. We want freedom from slavery.” ~Sringatin, Chairperson, Federation of Asian Domestic Workers’ Union (FADWU, Hong Kong)

May Day 2010 will mark 124 years since 300,000 workers first walked out of their jobs demanding an 8-hour workday. The ‘8-hour standard work’ is one of the hallmarks that differentiate workers from slaves. At its very first session in 1919, the ILO formalized this principle into international law by adopting ILO Convention #1. In 1999, ‘decent work hours’ was identified as a key component of ILO’s decent work principles.

Sadly, a century-and-a-quarter later, one of the most vulnerable sections of the working class – the domestic (household) workers – have been denied decent work hours and other basic labour standards (decent wage, regular rest days, retirement/social security, reproductive/family rights, etc.). ILO Convention #1 and many other key ILO Conventions exclude domestic workers from their coverage. It is long overdue to renew the revolutionary spirit of May Day 1886 in the modern-day context – by making these basic standards universally applicable to all workers, especially the vulnerable, like the domestic workers.

Therefore, trade unions and domestic workers’ organizations, together with migrant, women, and civil society and partner advocates, have come together to spearhead the international campaign for the rights and recognition of domestic workers. As part of this joint campaign, we have agreed to jointly celebrate May Day 2010 as the “Asian Domestic Workers’ Day’ to emphasize the core labour rights principles and highlight our call for the proper recognition of the rights, value, and status of domestic workers as workers. 

May Day 2010 is at the threshold of the global labour landscape because the 2011 International Labour Conference is expected to adopt the ILO Convention on Domestic Work. This new international treaty, like Convention #1 more than a century ago, will put a legal face to the hundreds of millions of domestic workers around the world. An ILO Convention will formally define domestic work as work, and will make all the fundamental labour rights and decent work principles equally applicable to domestic workers. The adoption of the Convention will help address the stark invisibility of domestic work as a form of employment.

Housework is one of the oldest and most fundamental duties performed by a majority of women because women are traditionally considered as nurturers of the family. For centuries, it has been work that is informal, unregulated, unpaid or undervalued, unprotected and unrecognized. Domestic workers enable employers and their families to participate in the productive processes of the larger society.

The intensification of free-market globalization in the last 50 years saw a need for domestic workers on a global scale, giving rise to multi-billion dollar migrant domestic work (MDW) industry. Millions of MDWs have taken over house care for families both in the global North and South, and have created new economic opportunities for other workingwomen in receiving countries. Domestic work has also generated economic benefits for sending countries, mainly through remittances than enable these countries to survive many economic crises. Migrant domestic work is now one of the main occupational preferences of women workers seeking to survive steadily disappearing livelihood opportunities at home.

Due to the nature of the job, the situation of domestic workers has remained precarious, vulnerable, and invisible. The unique challenges faced by domestic workers start from the day of recruitment. Live-in local and migrant domestic workers are particularly susceptible to various forms of maltreatment at the workplace and have little or no channels of redress. Migrant domestic workers are preyed on by opportunistic recruiters, employers, and corrupt officials. Vulnerabilities to forced labour, slavery-like conditions and trafficking increase as domestic workers end their employment and search for new work. Domestic workers, especially at the local level, also involve a substantial number of children, which is another major concern of the ILO. 

The ILO has recognized the urgent need to establish minimum standards of “human dignity and self-respect” for domestic workers as early as 1965, in a resolution that cited the lack of social and legal protection for them. However, until today, this has not progressed into binding standards or legal commitments. Part of this inaction is the prevailing notion that domestic work does not constitute formal employment – i.e. it is an extension of women’s unpaid reproductive (nurturing) role; domestic workers also predominantly come from lower classes or castes especially in Asian societies. An ILO Convention will help break these gender and class stereotypes, and lay down the basis for an employer-employee relationship in domestic work. 

We, the undersigned, call for the adoption by 2011 of an International Convention on Domestic Work, together with clear guidelines on monitoring and implementation, reporting and compliance mechanisms. We believe an ILO Convention will significantly contribute to the reduction of slavery-like conditions, abuse, violence, exploitation, inequality, and discrimination against women and domestic workers. It will help reduce the worst forms of child labour, the stigmatization and criminalization of migrant domestic workers, and racial and ethnic discrimination.

On May Day 2010, we call on everyone to support and celebrate the “Asian Domestic Workers’ Day.” We, the domestic workers’ groups, trade unions, migrant organizations, women’s groups, civil society and advocates in Asia and globally will march together in solidarity as we demand for the recognition and respect of rights, value, contributions, and status of domestic workers as workers and equal members of society.

Domestic Work is Work! 

Domestic Workers are Workers! 

Domestic Work is NOT Slavery! 

Adopt an ILO Convention on Domestic Work in 2011!

SIGNATORIES:

Asian Migrant Domestic Workers’ Alliance (ADWA) * Asian Domestic Workers Network (ADWN) * Asian Migrant Centre (AMC) * Alliance for Progressive Labor (APL) * Coalition for Migrants’ Rights (CMR) * Committee for Asian Women (CAW) * Federation of Asian Domestic Workers’ Unions in Hong Kong (FADWU) * Global Network Asia * Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) * International Domestic Workers Network (IDWN) * International Working Group for Domestic Workers (IWG-DW) * Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA) *

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