By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — Organizations of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and advocacy groups espousing migrant rights welcomed the Philippine government’s recent ratification of International Labor Organization Convention 189 (C189) on domestic work, saying that it was a victory to be credited to OFWs worldwide.
After months of being lobbied by Filipino migrant groups based in various countries, the Philippine government finally ratified C189. The Senate vote was overwhelmingly for the Convention last August 6. Lawmakers passed Senate Resolution No. 816, or the Resolution Concurring in the Ratification of Convention 189, Convention Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers. This was approved on third reading with 20 votes, zero negative vote and zero abstention.
The Convention defines domestic work as work performed in or for a household or households. The ILO said that while the new instruments cover all domestic workers, they provide for special measures to protect those workers who, because of their young age or nationality or live-in status, may be exposed to additional risks relative to their peers, among others.
Based on the new ILO standards, domestic workers around the world who care for families and households should enjoy the same basic labor rights as those available to other workers. Domestic workers have the right to reasonable hours of work; weekly rest of at least 24 consecutive hours; a limit on in-kind payment, clear information on terms and conditions of employment; as well as respect for fundamental principles and rights at work including freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.
In a study the ILO conducted covering 117 countries, the number of domestic workers was placed at around 53 million. It clarified, however, that because domestic labor is often hidden and unregistered, the total number of domestic workers could reach 100 million.
The Benigno Aquino III government has yet, however, to “register” its ratification at the ILO.
Earlier in June, the government of Uruguay became the first country to ratify C189 when it presented its documents to the annual 101st International Labour Conference in the Swiss capital. The Philippine ratification completes the required minimum of two ratifiers for the Convention to enter into effect.
While Philippine migrant groups such as Migrante International and APMM do not not view the C189 as an assurance of protection for foreign domestic workers’ rights, they said that its provisions are important in advocacy work that aims to alleviate their difficult working conditions.
The ILO Committee on Domestic Workers adopted C189 last July 2011, recognizing domestic work as work and bestowing upon domestic workers equal rights and recognition as other workers – including the enforcement of minimum wage, regular working hours and holidays, provision of health and other benefits and the right to organize and form unions.
Migrante International and the Hong Kong-based Asia Pacific Migrant Mission (APMM) said the adoption of the C189 is a milestone – a product of long years of hard-fought struggle to secure the rights of domestic workers.
According to Migrante International, in 2010, the number of Filipino domestic workers deployed were 154,535 which accounted for 45 percent of deploys for that year, according to government statistics. Remittances of Filipino domestic workers comprised a significant portion of the overall remittances that support the Philippine economy.
Migrante International chairperson Garry Martinez said the ratification of C189 is just a start and that the struggle to attain equal rights and protection for domestic workers, including migrant domestic workers is still a long way to go.
“The bigger challenge now is how to push other governments, especially migrant-receiving countries, to ratify the Convention and institute national legal frameworks to enforce its provisions,” Martinez said.
So far, no major migrant-receiving country has ratified C189.
Martinez also noted that the passage of a local legislation recognizing domestic work as work remains an uphill battle. He noted that the first Kasambahay Bill was proposed 10 years ago, but has yet to be passed into law. In the meantime, in the last decade the number of domestic workers in the country has from 1.93 million to 2.5 million.
“We hail this victory but the struggle continues. As the global alliance of progressive organizations of migrant Filipinos, Migrante International will remain at the frontline of the struggle for the rights and welfare of domestic workers and their fight for justice and the total eradication of modern-day slavery victimizing migrant workers around the world,” Martinez said.
Senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch Nisha Varia in a statement said that the ratification of the C189 raises hopes that millions of women and girls will have the chance for better working conditions and better lives.”
Push for unanimous C189 ratification
The APMM for its part said the C189 can now be used as a benchmark for protecting the rights of all domestic workers, especially those working abroad.”
Ramon Bultron, APMM Managing Director said the ratification of C189 gives all C189 campaigners ” a much-needed shot in the arm.” He said that along with grassroots migrant organizations and advocate networks such as the United for Foreign Domestic Workers Rights, APMM is determined more than ever to see this Convention ratified by the most number of countries that traffic in this type of employment.”
The APMM official said the Senate concurrence is a sign of the increasing effectivity of migrant organizations and advocates in influencing state policies, which he said has been built up painstakingly over the years in both sending and receiving countries.
“It is a testament especially to the persistence and unwavering determination of grassroots organizations such as those in Hong Kong, who launched their ratification campaign right after the Convention’s passage in Geneva last year. Now that the Convention has virtually entered into force, the next stage is set in our advocacy campaign for C189. This is to push for its ratification in countries involved with labor migration, especially receiving ones where most violations of migrant rights occur,” he said.
Bultron, however, expressed apprehension about the future of C189’s implementation, given that “receiving countries have traditionally been slow in ratifying migrant conventions, if they will sign at all.” He cited the case of the UN Migrant Workers’ Convention, which took effect only 13 years after it was signed in 1990. So far, no major receiving country has signed the said convention.
The migrant rights advocate explained that under ILO rules, conventions can only enter into force twelve months after the formal ratifications of two member-governments have been registered with the ILO Director-General.
“In this case, the Philippine government still needs to ‘deposit’ the ratification documents to the ILO before its adoption of the Convention can be considered as a registered one,” he insisted.
Bultron called on the Philippine government to swiftly harmonize its relevant laws and policies with those of the Convention. “This is especially urgent with regard to its unconscionable exaction of fees from OFWs, which creates ideal conditions for debt bondage and increases the suffering of foreign domestic workers and other migrants,” he said.
The APMM head also urged foreign domestic workers (FDWs) everywhere to get organized to be more effective in pushing not only for further country-ratifications of C189, but also for concrete gains in their economic welfare and political rights. “Based on the experience of the Asia Pacific migrant movement, it is only through the organized efforts of foreign domestic workers, in unity with other migrants and sectors, that their rights can be protected in the long term,” Bultron said.