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Government called to act on exploitation of domestic workers

The national partners on the issue will call on Minister Bruton to ratify the Domestic Workers Convention. Some domestic workers were found to be paid as little as 25c an hour.

Minister Richard Bruton
Minister Richard Bruton
Image: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

A PETITION IS to be handed to Minister Richard Bruton today, calling on him to ratify the Domestic Workers’ Convention to stop the exploitation of vulnerable workers in Ireland.

Twelve representatives from the national partners – SIPTU, ICTU, Migrant Rights Centre Ireland, and the Domestic Workers Action Group – will call to his office as part of a global day of action on the issue.

They will also hand him 12 giftboxes, asking him to give migrant workers a gift this Christmas by making a commitment to ratify the convention.

Aoife Smith of the MRCI told TheJournal.ie:

“Twelve months ago in Geneva, the International Labour Organisation met and there was a broad consensus for international laws to protect domestic workers. The Irish Government voted in favour of it, and only six governments voted against it.

However, the uptake on ratification has been quite slow, she said.

An international campaign has been started up to try and get the government to respond and follow up on the commitments it made. That global day of action is taking place tomorrow in 84 different countries.

“The campaign really took off because in some countries there is no protection for domestic workers at all,” said Smith. “It is the fastest growing sector in the world and has the highest reports of forced labour, trafficked labour and child labour.” She added that MRCI research has shown that domestic workers can be underpaid, undervalued, and exploited, and that the government has a duty to protect these workers in Ireland.

In an MRCI domestic workers survey carried out in 2010, 40 per cent of domestic workers reported they did not have an employment contract, while 44 per cent raised a complaint with their employer about their unfair treatment but their concern was ignored.

Behind the radar

With Ireland recently being nominated onto the Human Rights Council in the UN, and taking over presidency of the European Union in 2013, MRCI feels it is an important opportunity for Ireland to be one of the first EU countries to ratify the convention.

Smith said that domestic workers are ‘behind the radar’ and don’t work in open spaces, so it can be difficult to create awareness round the issue. The Domestic Workers Action Group has 270 migrant women as its members in Ireland. Since 2008, the MRCI has discovered some 40 cases of forced labour of domestic workers, said Smith, and out of  these, 18 trafficking cases referred to Gardaí, 14 of those are involving domestic workers, half of which were working in diplomatic households.

The value of domestic work tends to be quite low, but labour laws do apply to this work, said Smith.

“Not all employers are bad,” she explained, but said the private nature of the job and the lack of trade union representatives causes issues. “We would see women working for in excess of 50, 60, or 70 hours a week and paid well below minimum wage – in some cases 25c an hour.”

Some workers are subject to bullying, harassment, control of their movements, are not allowed to speak to other people or not allowed leave house after their duties are completed, she added.

Read: Forced labour ‘alive and well in Ireland’>

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