Push for domestic workers’ protection

Two of the Caribbean’s leading advocates for domestic workers visited Barbados last week with the goal towards the ratification of Convention 189 (C-189) on the island.

Also known as the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 189, the law sets forth international labour standards to protect and promote the rights and well-being of domestic workers.
C-189 is ratified in four countries in the Caribbean: Jamaica, Grenada, Guyana and Antigua & Barbuda.

During their time on the island, co-founder of the International Domestic Workers Federation Shirley Pryce, as well as Caribbean Regional Coordinator for IDWF, and former government senator in Jamaica, Imani Duncan-Price engaged in talks with union representatives and stakeholders regarding the ratification of C-189 in Barbados.

“Sometimes the laws are there but it’s not enforced so you have a challenge in domestic workers getting the benefit of the law,” Pryce said.

She identified the ratification as a necessary step towards improving the rights of domestic workers across the Caribbean, explaining that accomplishing this aim ensures domestic workers will attain benefits sometimes denied to them such as payment of National Insurance, Occupational health and safety benefits, overtime pay, and maternity leave.

“Social protection is one of the biggest things that is lacking . . . . That is why we are doing this awareness campaign for social protection to have both employers and employees aware of their responsibility.

“So laws are there but domestic workers are still not protected even though we fought to get that convention in place. The government signed on to it and we thought that they would really put things in place to protect workers and it is not happening,” said Pryce.

While Duncan-Price credited the government for laws acknowledging the rights of domestic workers she lamented that day-to-day practice doesn’t show them being enforced.

“Think about what you are entitled to as an employee, you have vacation leave with pay, that’s a right that domestic workers have as well. You have sick leave with pay, when you get sick you get paid still, some people if you don’t come to work as a domestic worker they don’t pay you. The right is there in most of our laws in the Caribbean but people don’t relate to domestic workers as regular workers,” said Dunan-Price.

“Things like working hours, when people are live-in helpers or live-in domestic workers they don’t always get paid overtime, no one is counting the hours. Live-out is easier because at least you can know, I’m coming in, coming out, and it’s eight hours, five days typically, or for a week – 40 hours.”

“If you go beyond the 40 hours you should get paid time and a half and people don’t pay that. So it is applying the same rights that other workers have to domestic work.”

Duncan-Price also pointed out that it was key to acknowledge non-national domestic workers among those highly susceptible to abuse by employers.