Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Guess which government won't support deal to help domestics...

THEY can be flown around the globe with their employer, and then find themselves
unable to leave the house. For some it may be an escape from grinding poverty and war zones, to relative comfort and security, at the price of working long hours. But at the other extreme people can find themselves not only exploited as cheap labour but treated as the employer's property, in other words, slaves.

Not expensive property to be looked after, let alone respected as human belongs. There was the woman who, after going hungry and enduring beatings, waited till she was thin enough to wriggle out of a dog flap and escape. And there are those who fear jumping from the frying pan to the fire, if they have to throw themselves on the mercy of immigration laws.

"If you take a walk on a Sunday in Hyde Park, you will spot many a family with a domestic worker in tow, someone of a Filipino or south Asian background, poorly dressed and lagging behind with a sense of deference. She may be a domestic worker on a work visa with satisfactory working conditions. But we know the majority of such workers are exploited and often paid less than the minimum wage, with the boundaries between slavery and employment becoming very blurred indeed".

That's Rahila Gupta, introducing her book Enslaved, The New British Slavery, (2007), though the cases she documents are not confined to female domestics. Rahila reaches the conclusion that immigration controls serve to keep labour enchained.

Meantime, from the Far East, where domestic servants are more common, to Britain, where we used to think being in service was a thing of the past, these exploited workers have asserted their dignity and rights by sometimes organising, like other workers, in trade unions. No easy thing when it may be difficult to get away and meet others - some use an excuse and cover like going to church. They also need their rights recognised by law, and sympathetic legislation.
It's an international issue.

And guess which government is digging in its heels against action to help? Yeah, that's right.

Here's Louise Nousratpour reporting in today's Morning Star:

THE government refused today to sign an international labour treaty aimed at improving protection for exploited domestic workers. A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovations and Skills (BIS) revealed that Britain will be abstaining from a vote on whether to adopt the International Labour Organisation's (ILO) new Domestic Worker Convention.

Representatives from national governments have been meeting in Geneva to discuss the details of the guidelines, with a final vote taking place today. .But the department spokesman insisted that Britain already provided "comprehensive protections to domestic workers and we do not consider it appropriate or practical to extend criminal health and safety law, including inspections, to private households employing domestic workers.

"However, we do strongly support the principles the ILO treaty enshrines."

Campaigners and unions condemned the government's "spineless" stance on the issue and dismissed its claim that domestic workers were already protected by law.They pointed to mounting evidence that many were being ill treated and denied the minimum wage, with employers facing no retribution.

In more extreme cases, domestic workers suffered physical and sexual abuse and were treated like slaves without pay or holidays. Anti-Slavery International spokeswoman Audrey Guichon said that Britain's decision not to ratify the treaty meant that "it does not think domestic workers are 'real' workers, deserving of the same protections as everyone else.

"The vast majority of countries are expected to vote in favour of this convention and the UK will be standing alone in not supporting what would be an internationally accepted minimum standard of protection of domestic workers' rights."

Unite union assistant general secretary Diana Holland said: "Domestic workers are excluded from basic working rights and face the real threat of abuse such as insults, threats, alongside physical and even sexual abuse."This convention is a real step forward for justice for these domestic workers."

Ms Holland demanded that Britan supports the treaty.She also called on ministers to "lift the threat to the overseas domestic worker visa, which ended modern day slavery in this country and offers essential protections but is now poised to go."

Britain bails out of domestic worker treaty

See also:

For more on migrant domestic workers and their efforts to organise see:

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