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Presented by: Department of Public Information of the United Nations - Non Governmental Organizations
UN DPINGO Briefings - Dated: December 2, 2010 - Conference Room #1, NLB
Issue of the Moment: “Crossing Boundaries: Protecting the Rights of Mig"rant Women Domestic Workers”
(In Observance of International Migrants Day – 18 December)

Modern Slavery: Women Domestic Workers
"In 2010, the ILO estimates the number of international migrants to be 214 million."
- More on the UN/DPI-NGO Briefings on the Lightmillennium.Org

Through the dissemination of information on the human rights and fundamental freedoms of migrants, the sharing of experience and the design of actions to ensure their protection.”

Highlights & Photos by:
Sirin CENGIZALP, Lightmillennium.Org
Youth Representative to the UN DPI/NGO

Background: The United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO) defines Migration as primarily a labour issue which involves the movement of workers who cross borders to find employment, as well as the necessity of equal treatment, good working conditions and rights for these workers. Migrant workers can make a positive contribution to development both through their labour in their host societies as well as through the remittances which they send home; yet they lack labour protection at a national and international level and are thus vulnerable to exploitation and human trafficking.

In 2010, the ILO estimates the number of international migrants to be 214 million. Nearly half of these are women. Though many migrant women may have worked in recognized professions in their countries of origin, they often accept lower skilled jobs in foreign countries for higher pay. In many cases, the only opportunities available to them are in household or domestic service. Consequently, women migrant domestic workers are usually employed in private households and are very susceptible to physical and sexual abuse. The situation of migrant women has been exacerbated by the global financial and economic crisis which has brought with it significant employment and social challenges, particularly for migrant workers from developing countries. The ILO as the only UN agency with a constitutional mandate to protect migrant workers is therefore very concerned about managing labour migration so that it contributes positively to the growth and development of both home and host societies, as well as to the well being of the migrants themselves.

It is not surprising therefore that in the last two decades, international migration has risen to the top of the global policy agenda. The General Assembly in response to this, on 4 December 2000, proclaimed 18 December as International Migrants Day. The resolution has invited Member States, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations to observe International Migrants Day “through the dissemination of information on the human rights and fundamental freedoms of migrants, the sharing of experience and the design of actions to ensure their protection” [A/RES/55/93]. As we commemorate International Migrants Day 2010, let us consider the role that NGOs can play in protecting the rights of migrant women domestic workers.

The Briefing moderated by María Luisa Chávez; Chief, NGO Relations, Department of Public Information (DPI)
Joycelyn Gill-Campbell,Organizational Coordinator of Domestic Workers United.

Maria-Luisa Chavez opened the briefing by talking about the recent news of abused migrant workers who suffered extensive physical injuries at the hands of their employers, and in one case we even had a death. These includes, a 36 years old Indonesian domestic worker whose body was recovered in Abha with signs of extensive physical abuse, a 23 years old Indonesian domestic worker whose currently in a hospital in Medina with burns and severe physical injuries and a 49 years old Sri Lankan domestic worker who had 24 nails removed from her body on her return to Sri Lanka. Today 240,000 people %3 of world’s total population is international migrants and nearly half of these are women. 10 years ago this month General Assembly concerned about the Human Rights of migrants worldwide and taking it to consideration to human rights concept that all human beings are born free and equal has dignity and rights and declared 18th December “International Migrants Day”.

Patrick Taran, Senior Migration Specialist, International Migration Programme,
United Nations International Labour Organization, participated to the Briefing through

Patrick Taran, Senior Migration Specialist, International Migration Programme, United Nations International Labour Organization, started his speech by emphasizing that 240,000 migrants and 105,000 of them are economically active, that’s to say employed, or self-employed. Second point Mr. Taran made was that now in many Western European countries, Canada, United States, Australia and else where about %10 of the work forces are made of foreign-born workers, in other words migrant workers and women in many destination countries comprise the majority of working migrants. In some European countries women comprise %55-60 of those migrants who are economically active. Patrick Taran wanted to underline that the history and the reality of the domestic workers around the world is clearly dominated by experiences of abuse exploitation and indecent working conditions. Later Mr. Taran added that information that they have shows that there are quite a few migrant domestic women who go home in coffins from the countries of employment and the reason of their death often because abusive treatment. In the case of protecting domestic workers it is practitioners themselves, civil society organization, migrant workers that have to take the leading calling for legal frame work to ensure that the human dignity and rights are protected in law and in practice.

"On June 1st 2010 New York State Senate passed a comprehensive bill and required lots of lobbying.
At the end New York Senate State got is justice and dignity for the invisible work force."

New York State Senator, Diane Savino

One of the things that became clear to Senator Diane Savino after she was appointed as a New York State Senate was that domestic workers themselves. As we all know that domestic workers were deliberately excluded from the National Liberalization Act more than 75 years ago by Franklin D. Roosevelt and it wasn’t just domestic workers but it was also farm workers. But nowhere in the country we have been able to activate Bill of Rights of domestic workers.

According to Ms. Savino one of the reasons why that has not happen until now is because even inside of the American Labor Movement there has not been a great deal of support for domestic workers. In 2000 the domestic workers united and actually stepped in and created the movement, which should have been created by the labor movement. Ms. Savino stated that there are two unions particularly in New York State that were very helpful. One was the United Auto Workers Union (UAW) and the other one was Service Employees International Union (SEIU), but beyond that there were very little interests of support from the Labor Movement and in fact when the bill was introduced they didn’t even lobby in favor of it.

On June 1st 2010 New York State Senate passed a comprehensive bill and required lots of lobbying. At the end New York Senate State got is justice and dignity for the invisible work force. Essentially, Domestic Workers Bill of Rights will provide the following rights to well over 200,000 people; they are going to get one day of rest every calendar week waivable by the worker would pay for that day overtime rate x rate/half, they are going to be paid overtime at the same rate every other worker has after 40 hrs/week or 44hrs/week if it is a living worker, after 1 year of work with a same employer they will get 3 days of rest per year at the legislative compensation, also protection of workers from request of sexual favors by their employers. In conclusion, Ms. Savino emphasized that they still have long way to go to achieve their ultimate goals for providing complete equality for domestic workers.

"In Lebanon, this is a country with 3,000,000 people, which is less people than New York City,
on average domestic worker dies every single week."

Nisha Varia, Senior Researcher, Women’s Rights Division, Human Rights Watch

Nisha Varia, Senior Researcher, Women’s Rights Division, Human Rights Watch, which is an international NGO that works in over 18 countries and documents human rights abuses, raise public awareness about those abuses and try to generate pressure to hold governments accountable so they can the steps necessary to protect human rights. According to Ms. Varia’s data in Lebanon, this is a country with 3,000,000 people, which is less people than New York City, on average domestic worker dies every single week.

These deaths due to trying to escape from abusive conditions in the workplace, in many cases they are locked in a room, so they try to escape through the windows and lots of these deaths from falls from high buildings. Ms. Varia emphasized that there are many cases that they documented about the workers who does not receive their payments, not receiving their wages on time or full, plus they have been asked to work 18 hours/day 7days/week. It is very common for a domestic worker’s passports to be taken away from them and prohibited from leaving the workplace or from being in contact with their families.

According to Ms. Varia, if you go to the embassies of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, or Malaysia there are so many women from these countries coming with complaints of abuse, so the embassies created shelters inside the embassies. Ms. Varia was in Kuwait few months ago and there are 600 Indonesian women taken the shelter because they had complained about the abuses from their employers. In conclusion, there is consideration of changes to the immigration sponsorships system which is hugely politically sensitive issue, and these changes not going to come easily or anytime soon but there is a growing awareness, debate around this issues.

Last but not least, Singapore has amended a penal code, if you abuse a domestic worker you would get one and half times the penalty that you would get if you abuse someone else. Every employer who hires domestic workers has a mandatory orientation class that they must go to about their rights and responsibilities as employers.

Saudi Arabia is one of the most difficult places to work, the migrants there have been incredibly innovative and had developed SMS hot line so if someone able to smuggle cell phone in and able to send SMS message that cry for a help then that SMS go to certain NGOs or to the embassies, or groups at their home countries.

“We connect the history of slavery, when slaves were first brought into this country."
Joycelyn Gill-Campbell

Joycelyn Gill-Campbell, who is the Organizational Coordinator of Domestic Workers United, shared her personal experiences as a nanny and her current work.

Ms. Campbell emphasized that since majority of the domestic workers out of the public’s eye, they are more easily exploited and abused. That’s why Domestic Workers United brings these workers out of the shadows and educates them about their rights and about the new law that protects them in New York State.

Thanks to Ms. Campbell’s organization DWU, educational workshops developed by the member organizations addressed the history of the domestic workers’ industry beginning with the slave trade and connecting it with modern-day globalization.

Ms. Campbell used these words to describe the situation; “We connect the history of slavery, when slaves were first brought into this country. Women were placed to work in the homes as domestic workers and men were placed in the fields as farm workers. Much of the same exploitation and abuse is still going on now.”

According to Joycelyn Gill-Campbell these workshops provide a deeper understanding of free trade and globalization policies that have displace labor, racism and patriarchy that has persistently devalued domestic work and the historic exclusion of domestic workers from basic workplace protections and labor standards for fair wages and collective bargaining.
Questions & Answers:

Q: How many of the domestic workers internationally are child domestic workers and is it anticipated that they will be covered under the new convention?
A: (Patrick Taran) Unfortunately there are not sufficient data on the proportion of child labor among the domestic labor. In West Africa, in Middle East, in South Asia and elsewhere there is lots of young people do domestic work. But there is an intention to set a legal minimum age for domestic work, but I am not familiar with what the current proposal is. But they are actually trying to reduce the abusive employment of children; the convention intends to say that to be a legal domestic worker you have to be at least 15-16-17 of age.
A: (Nisha Varia) One of the proposals at the ILO Convention of Domestic Workers is to make sure that child domestic workers would be covered under the ILO Convention 138 which is the minimum age standard and making sure that children in domestic work are covered under national law which sets the minimum age.

Q: How do you get people to know about the Bill of Rights?
A: (Joycelyn Gill-Campbell) We have members that trained and equipped to go to the playgrounds and streets to tell all about the Bill of Rights. We also have workshops to educate our members. Also on the radios we are spreading the news on Bill of Rights.

Q: How many of the immigrant domestic women workers in the United States are undocumented and how does it impact what we have been talking about today?
A: (Diane Savino) I would guess significant number, I would say more than %50 of them. In fact that was one of the issues that slowed the passing of the law of Domestic Bill of Rights in New York State, there were several members of the Senate who thought that would be inappropriate to extend the basic work place rights to undocumented workers. That’s amazing when you found out that most of the legislatives don’t know the law themselves. By law, the employers have the same obligations toward their undocumented employees as their documented employees.
A: (Joycelyn Gill-Campbell) It is not the issue of politics whether you are documented or not, it is the issue of humanity.


Patrick Taran has served as Senior Migration Specialist with the International Labour Office (ILO) in Geneva since 1990. He is a leading international specialist on migration and migrants’ human rights with 33 years of professional experience in migration; refugee, anti-discrimination and integration work at local, national and global levels. He is responsible for advisory and technical cooperation projects in Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (also known as the CIS countries) in support of ILO work to combat discrimination against migrant workers. He is also responsible for activities on the protection of rights and dignity of migrants. His previous positions include that of Program Officer for the joint UN inter-agency International Migration Policy Program and Secretary for Migration at the World Council of Churches. He also co-founded and formerly directed Migrants Rights International (MRI) an independent international human rights monitoring body. Prior to 1990, he worked on immigration policy, refugee resettlement, and immigrant integration issues with local and national organizations in the United States.

Diane Savino was elected to represent the 23rd Senatorial District, encompassing the North Shore of Staten Island and portions of Brooklyn, including Borough Park, Coney Island, Bensonhurst, and Sunset Park, in 2004. She began her career in public service as a caseworker for New York City’s Child Welfare Administration, providing direct assistance to abused and neglected children. An active member of her local labor union, the Social Service Employees Union (SSEU) Local 371, she quickly rose through the ranks to become the Vice President for Political Action & Legislative Affairs, where she became one of the most respected labor leaders in New York State. As a labor activist, she actively and successfully campaigned for an increase in the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.15 – the first raise for New Yorkers in over a decade. In addition, Ms. Savino has championed legislation protecting hard-working New Yorkers including Paid Family Leave, which established up to 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a sick family member or newborn, and the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, which expands basic worker protection rights to domestic workers.

Nisha Varia is a Senior Researcher in the Women’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch (HRW). Her recent research has focused on human rights abuses against migrant domestic workers from South and Southeast Asia employed in the Middle East, Malaysia, and Singapore. She has authored several reports including: Slow Reform: Protection of Migrant Domestic Workers in Asia and the Middle East (April 2010), As if I am not Human: Abuses against Asian Domestic Workers in Saudi Arabia (July 2008), and Help Wanted: Abuses against Female Migrant Domestic Workers in Indonesia and Malaysia (July 2004). Ms. Varia regularly engages with labor, immigration, and justice officials to advocate for stronger protections. She is frequent commentator on these issues to the media, and has also been closely involved with the process of creating an ILO convention on domestic work.

Joycelyn Gill-Campbell is the Organizational Coordinator with Domestic Workers United (DWU). She has been a member of DWU since 2002 and a former nanny. She advocates against the exploitation and abuses that women face in the domestic industry and is currently working relentlessly in the Campaign for the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. Ms. Gill-Campbell is a strong advocate for women’s rights and has spoken across the country on human rights and workers rights issues. A graduate of the Social Justice Leadership Foundations of Organizing Training Program and a current student of Cornell University, Ms. Gill-Campbell also serves on the Coordinating Committee of Grassroots Global Justice, a national alliance of grassroots organizations dedicated to building a transformative social justice movement beyond borders.

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