Domestic workers toil often invisibly, in private homes where they often are subject to abuse. They typically have no protections under nations’ labor laws. Their labor is sometimes not recognized as “real” work. Yet despite the many obstacles they face, domestic workers worldwide have made huge strides in securing rights and respect on the job by joining together in unions and associations, according to a new report.

Claiming Rights: Domestic Workers’ Movements and Global Advances for Labor Reform,” documents the tremendous progress these often overlooked workers have made—by changing national labor laws to include domestic workers, by building international alliances and by demanding public recognition that they, too, are workers who deserve fair wages and decent working conditions.

“I never even imagined that domestic workers could form associations and have programs for fellow domestic workers. Before that, I didn’t have the faintest idea that I, too, have rights,” said Lilibeth Masamloc, a former child domestic worker from the Philippines, quoted in the report.

The report, which also charts the historic 2011 ratification of the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 189 on domestic workers’ rights, was released as domestic workers worldwide are meeting in Uruguay at the founding congress of a global federation of domestic workers. The Domestic Workers Convention went into effect last month and was passed after an intensive global campaign spearheaded by the International Domestic Workers Network (IDWN) and the IUF, the global union federation that represents food, farm and hotel workers worldwide.

According to the ILO, nearly 30 percent of the world’s more than 50 million domestic workers are employed in countries where they are completely excluded from national labor laws, including weekly rest days, limits to hours of work, minimum wage coverage and overtime pay. The ILO estimates that 73 percent of child domestic workers are girls and one-third (3.5 million) are between ages 5 and 11.

So far, 10 countries have ratified the Domestic Workers Convention: first Uruguay, then the Philippines, Mauritius, Nicaragua, Italy, Bolivia, Paraguay, South Africa, Guyana and Germany. Several more are in the process of approving it.

The AFL-CIO last month awarded its annual George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award to the IDWN for supporting local domestic worker movements, building bridges between unions and domestic worker organizations and providing a voice for domestic workers at the international level. Many Solidarity Center partners are also members of the IDWN, which was formed in 2006 by a group of domestic workers’ unions together with support organizations. The IDWN offically changed its name during the Uruguay congress to the International Domestic Workers Federation.

“Claiming Rights” was jointly released by Human Rights Watch, the IDWN and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

The report is also available in Spanish.

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