Sam Gurney is a worker member of the ILO governing body and a London regional rep on National Policy Forum and Britain in the World Policy Commission.
The 4th World Day for Decent Work will be marked by events around the globe on October 7th. Decent Work is the concept developed by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and adopted by the rest of the UN, that defines what good jobs should look like and how the global economy should be reshaped to lift people out of poverty.
Its four pillars are; job creation, good conditions in the workplace, social protection systems for those not working and genuine social dialogue through which workers can engage with employers and government. These concepts underpin many of the MDGs and much of what a genuinely rights based development agenda should be about.
However the coalition government has displayed its hostility to the ILO on numerous occasions since it was ‘elected.’ In March they ended the partnership funding agreement between DFID and the ILO that had been supporting work on ending child labour in India, building social protection systems in Southern Africa and developing co-operatives across East Africa with a particular focus on job creation for the young unemployed. In June they voted (along with only 4 other governments out of 183) for a cut to the ILO core budget.
In some ways even more shocking though, because it highlights their abject lack of understanding of the need for a rights based development agenda, was their decision to abstain in the vote on a new convention covering the rights of domestic workers (one of only 9 governments to do so).
Not content with abstaining in the vote they were also the only government to speak against the convention in the main session of the ILO conference. For the record the UK employer rep, from the CBI, voted against and made the only other speech against the convention of the whole conference.
There are between 50-100 million domestic workers globally, they work in one of the most exploited sectors of the economy, often hidden from view and isolated in individual households, sometimes subject to horrendous abuse, frequently treated as part of the ‘informal’ economy and denied the rights of other workers such as contracts of employment, payment in cash and fixed working hours.
The ILO convention is not a radical document indeed many compromises were made in the negotiations between government, employer and workers delegates (the British Trade Union Congress was represented by Marissa Begonia, herself a domestic worker and activist in Justice for Domestic Workers/Unite the Union) in order to achieve a document that would be supported by all sides. However the convention does enshrine the basic concept that domestic workers, including migrant domestic workers, are workers and are entitled to the same rights and protections as all other workers and sets down the minimum entitlements in regard to these rights.
This is important for our development agenda for a number of reasons, not least because domestic workers despite often earning poverty wages are often the main bread winners in their families. Migrant domestic workers remittances are important for the economies of many countries including, like Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Philippines. In addition many girls are forced into child labour as domestic workers meaning and so miss out on education.
By ensuring a fairer deal for domestic workers we can do much to help them lift themselves out of poverty as well as protecting their basic human rights. The fact that our government and employers chose to ignore this global picture and not support the convention due to differences on how it might impact on working time regulations in the UK and a spurious argument that it would lead to elderly employers here being imprisoned due to breaches of health and safety regulations (simply not true) shows how far removed the coalitions rhetoric on development is from the reality of their action. And let’s not forget that it isn’t the hardnosed Tories in charge of this issue in the government it is those ‘nice’ ‘ethical’ liberals Ed Davy and Vince Cable.
The TUC alongside the Justice for Domestic Workers (the domestic workers section of Unite the Union) and campaign groups including Kalayaan, Anti-Slavery International and Christian Aid will be launching a campaign to persuade the government to reverse its decision and ratify the convention, join us.
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