United Nation’s High Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development must provide rights for domestic workers
This week, the United Nations High-level Dialogue (HLD) on International Migration and Development will take place in New York. Amongst those participating in the event will be Marissa Begonia, Coordinator of Justice 4 Domestic Workers (J4DW), a self-organised branch of Unite the Union. Marissa is a domestic worker herself and will tell decision makers from around the world gathered at the UN the kind of exploitation migrant domestic workers suffer in the UK due to the fact that international labour standards have not been ratified or labour rights respected.
The migrant domestic worker charity Kalayaan has documented how physical, sexual and psychological abuse of domestic workers, the majority of whom are women, is widespread. Yet the UK government has so far failed to ratify ILO Convention on Domestic Workers (C189) which asserts domestic workers’ right to decent work and dignity. The UK Government also abstained from voting for this Convention when it came into being at the International Labour Conference in 2011 whilst, shamefully, the Confederation of British Industry voted against it.
In fact, Marissa was part of the group of workers from around the world at that International Labour Conference in Geneva urging for the Domestic Worker Convention to be created. Now she is taking part in the High Level Dialogue on migration and development, she will tell of how the situation for domestic workers in the UK has got even worse. In 2011 the Coalition government changed overseas domestic worker visa requirements. Overseas domestic workers are now ‘tied’ to one employer, which has dangerous similarities to the ‘Kafala’ system found in Gulf Countries. If they leave their employer due to abuse or exploitation, they have no right to remain in the country, despite the fact many lack the means to return to their country of origin.
J4DW has been lobbying the UK government to end the ‘tied’ worker visa, often using art and design as well as political advocacy. Now they have made a video specially for the High Level Dialogue which tells of the exploitation they have suffered and urges the UK government to ratify the Domestic Worker Convention.
Labour’s announcement to end the ‘tied’ overseas domestic worker visa is welcome. When the UK Government takes part in the UN High Level Dialogue this week, unions will be urging them to commit to restoring the rights of domestic workers to change employer and ratify the Domestic Worker Convention – just as Germany and Italy have done. Unions from around the world represented by the ITUC have written to the European Commission urging them to support to ratification ILO conventions and protect the right of migrant workers.
This is only the second time that governments and high-level officials have been brought together with trade unions, NGOs and employer groups to discuss migration and development at the UN – the first was in 2006. Global migration discussions have more regularly taken place through the Global Forum for Migration and Development which has been criticised by trade unions for denying unions and NGOs any formal role and for operating outside of the UN legal framework.
Now discussions on migration are taking place once more at the UN, which holds workers rights at its core, it is important that governments gathered in New York listen to the voices of migrant workers like J4DW.
You can watch Justice 4 Domestic Workers’ message for the UK government for the UN HLD here.