Domestic workers abused in Europe despite laws – ILO

MANILA, Philippines – The International Labor Organization (ILO) said domestic workers in rich European capitals still suffer from abuses and discrimination despite existing labor laws that respect their rights as many of them are undocumented.

An ILO analysis on the situation of domestic workers in Europe showed that despite clear domestic labor laws, European governments need to ratify the ILO Convention 189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers.

ILO legal specialist Martin Oelz said the ILO Convention 189, which takes effect next year after Uruguay and the Philippines ratified it, will place domestic workers under the formal work sector and give them the right to exercise rights such as decent pay, better work hours, and vacation leave.

“Establishing clearer rules to employ domestic workers and providing them with a real status is key to improving their situation,” Oelz explained.

”We believe that ILO Convention 189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers will help give recognition and better protection to a profession that remains mostly invisible today. Domestic workers deserve to be seen and treated as real workers,” the ILO official stressed.

There are close to 800,000 Filipino workers in Europe, according to figures from the European Affairs of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in the Philippines. Many of these Filipino domestic workers are in rich capitals like France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, and The Netherlands.

Case study

The ILO cited a case of a 59-year-old, Coring, a Filipina domestic worker who lost her job in The Netherlands because she insisted on taking some days off and going on holidays.

Coring said her employers told her: “We already pay you a salary and you do not pay any taxes, why should you go on holiday on top of that?”

The ILO official said Coring’s case is particularly difficult because she is an undocumented worker. He said even domestic workers in a regular situation have problems being recognized as such.

Europe may be a champion on labor laws also covering domestic workers, according to the ILO official, but there are still some gaps in the legislation and compliance tends to be weak.

The ILO report cited the view of John Kelly, regional manager at the Irish National Employment Rights Authority, the agency in charge of labor inspection in Ireland and other labor law experts in Europe, on the gaps in the improvement of situation of domestic workers in Europe.

Kelly said labor inspectors can only use existing labor laws, but these are not always adapted to the specificities of domestic work.

Non-compliance from employers of these domestic workers reflects the fact that domestic work is seldom seen as a real form of employment, said the ILO.

The ILO also said that access to private homes is restricted and few domestic workers are willing to openly denounce their employers.

“As a result, most European labor inspectorates have not focused on the domestic work sector,” said the ILO official.

Informal sector

The Irish labor official meanwhile said, “the main challenge remains that many domestic workers in Europe are in the informal economy.”

“We have been trained to detect human trafficking. However, it is hard to identify cases because many domestic workers may be afraid to contact us, as they are illegal migrants or working in the hidden economy,” said Kelly.

Dutch union organizer representative Rebeca Pabon said the situation poses “a major obstacle for labor inspectors to prevent and punish abuses.”

“Why would undocumented domestic workers contact a labor inspector if they know they will be deported, even before their labor rights are recognized?” she asked.

The ILO believes there is an increasing demand for domestic workers in Europe and to help prevent human trafficking, countries like France and Belgium, have set up legislation to facilitate the legal hiring of domestic workers.

In Belgium, the “titre service” program allows domestic workers to have a formal job while the cost for employer is partly paid by the government through subsidies. This makes domestic services more affordable and increases formal employment.

“Clearly this has a cost for the government,” said Michel Aseglio, head of the agency in charge of controlling social laws in Belgium.

“But the state immediately gets back part of the investment by raising more taxes.”

The Philippines also reintroduced France’s au pair system, after years of ban. The system allows young people to integrate in the French culture and learn a language while doing light duties for a family. –Stella Tomeldan,