Domestic workers
call on Latin American governments
to recognize their labor rights


Representatives from various domestic workers’ unions of Latin America gathered in the Mexican capital to participate in a seminar organized by their Confederation, and called on the governments of the region to ratify international conventions and pass local laws recognizing their labor rights. They denounced that in many of their countries they suffer very unfavorable conditions, working excessively long hours, and often for wages below the national minimum.


On Sept. 25, the Latin American and Caribbean Confederation of Domestic Workers (CONLACTRAHO) concluded its International Seminar on Institutional Processes and Decent Work for Domestic Workers, in the framework of an initiative of the International Labor Organization (ILO). Some 14 representatives from Brazil, Mexico, Paraguay, Colombia, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Chile, Argentina, Guatemala, Peru and Bolivia attended the seminar to share their experiences in organization.


The objectives of the event included building organizational and operational capacities in order to carry out the Confederation’s tasks more effectively, providing advice for institutional processes with the aim of achieving better results and generating a greater impact with their actions, further strengthening institutional capacities, and launching a plan of action with a view to the ILO’s International Labor Conference in 2010.


At a press conference, the representatives of the various Latin American organizations described the labor situation in their countries and voiced their most pressing demands.


The diagnosis


Alcira Burgos, who heads the Confederation’s Human Rights committee, reported that there are about 1.2 million domestic workers in Argentina. “After all the band-aid solutions that the government has applied - because that’s what they are, merely patches, not regulations in line with the human rights conventions the country claims to uphold - only 20 percent of domestics are working under legal conditions,” she said.


“We have no maternity benefits or medical coverage in the event of work accidents or illnesses. What’s more, our human rights are been violated because many of us are beaten,” Burgos went on to say that.

For her part, the representative of the National Federation of Paid Domestic Workers of Bolivia (FENATRAHOB), Marina Salgado, reported that there are at least 150 thousand domestic workers employed in her country. “Sadly I have to say that many of us have our rights violated. Our work is dignified and decent, but in many countries people don’t realize how important we are in the home, because if our employers had no domestic workers at home, they would not be able to perform their work and professional services,” she said.

Domestic workers appealed to civil society to recognize the importance of their work, and called on their people to think about what would happen if they ever decided to stage a work stoppage - the entire country would be paralyzed.


Salgado stressed the key social role played by these women who perform domestic tasks and are often seen as inferiors members of society: “We’re like second mothers to our employers’ children, we help them with their studies and provide psychological support to all young members of the family, because teenagers often feel more comfortable telling us things they should be sharing with their parents. As domestic workers we are a vital sector of society, and therefore we should be taken into account by our countries’ governments,” she underlined.


Ruth Moreno, of the Union of Household Workers (SINTRACAP) of Chile, admitted that “Chile has a fair amount of legislation, but not all laws are complied. We have holidays off, and we’re fighting to have shorter workdays, because we work 16-hour days, sometimes even longer. Ours is such an important task, both what we do in our own homes and in the homes we work for. So important that if our sector decided to stage a work stoppage, the entire country would be paralyzed. That’s how vital we are,” she said.

Marcelina Bautista, general secretary of Mexico’s CONLACTRAHO, summarized the state of labor rights for domestic workers in her country: “The Federal Labor Act has a whole section, chapter 13, that deals specifically with domestic workers, but it contains ambiguous provisions and neither workers nor employers are familiar with it. It needs to be amended; however, for the past four legislations nothing has been done in this sense.”

Moreover, she said that you can’t really speak of dignified work in the case of Mexico’s approximately two million domestic workers. “Work hours are not regulated, neither are wages or such benefits as social security, and on top of that they often suffer a great deal of discrimination and violence,” she said.

“If it wasn’t for us - they said - many professionals would not be able to perform their activities in the private or government sector. There’s much discrimination, and sexual and economic abuse is widespread.”

However, she said several advances had been made in the 14 countries of the Confederation: “Some of these countries have passed certain laws, for example, Peru and Bolivia in 2003, and more recently Costa Rica. These laws have incorporated certain gains with respect to rights such as social security benefits and work hours.”


Again, one of the main objectives of the event was to draft a statement to present to the ILO. “What we’re asking is that governments recognize our rights, and that trade union federations support us, because domestic workers are going to participate in 2010 (at the ILO conference) through these labor organizations.”


Paulina Luza, a Peruvian representative who is a member of the Confederation’s Minutes and Records committee, complained that “historically, domestic workers in Latin America have had little support from labor federations.” She recommended that domestic workers continue to fight for autonomy in decision-making, so as not to lose their identity, and she criticized the labor ministries that refuse to register domestic workers’ unions, as has happened in many countries.


Lenny Quirós, from Ecuador’s Association of Paid Domestic Workers of Guayaquil (ATRH), informed that they have been working for eleven years to organize the sector’s workers, highlighting that in the past two years the current government has achieved more than what they were able to achieve in the previous nine years. “Our president, Rafael Correa, opened up an opportunity for us, and through the work of legislators and congress our rights have now been included in the Constitution.


Just because our work is done inside the home doesn’t mean we’re worth less than professionals. We can fight and attain whatever we set out to achieve. We’ve made it this far, and that in itself shows the strength we’ve gained.”


Amalia Romero, of the Union of Domestic Workers of Paraguay (SINTRADOP), denounced that in her country they are “discriminated by law; domestic workers suffers social, cultural and economic discrimination. In Paraguay, domestics are paid only 40 percent of the minimum wage established by law.”

Antonia López, of the Group of Domestic Workers of Upper Chiapas (CEDACH), informed that a literacy campaign is underway to teach domestic workers of that region of Mexico to read and write and learn about their labor rights.



From México DF, Lauri García Dueñas


 September 29, 2009

Ilustration: Boligan, Cartonclub

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