with Cristina Otero

august 19

National Domestic Workers' Day


In November 2006, Uruguay’s legislative power passed a law (18,065) that regulates paid domestic work, representing a hard-earned gain for the more than 100,000 men and women who work as domestics in the country. However, it was not until August 19, 2008 that they were able to exercise their collective bargaining rights, as Wage Councils* were convened for the first time. Ninety percent of all domestic workers are women and 50 percent are still not registered in the social security system.


Sirel spoke with Cristina Otero, organization secretary of the Uruguay’s Sole Union of Domestic Workers (SUTD), who spoke about the progress achieved in labor organization and the importance it has for the sector’s workers.


-What does this day mean for domestic workers?

-Today, August 19, is the very first time that Uruguay celebrates National Domestic Workers’ Day, and I would say it is a historical day, and that’s how we are living it. It is a hugely important gain because more important than the fact that it’s a non-workable paid holiday for us is the fact that it gives us a visibility we never had before.


-When was your trade union formed?

-In 1985, but it lacked continuity and did not have much weight until the year 2005, which was when Uruguay’s confederation of trade unions, PIT-CNT, called for a reconstruction of the domestic workers’ union. So we began organizing ourselves with several goals in mind.


-How many members does the union have now?

-There are more than 600 of us in the union, that’s in Montevideo, the capital. In the rest of the country, the situation is more complex. It’s hard for these workers to organize themselves in a union for several reasons: social and economic conditions are different outside Montevideo, the cities and towns are so small that you have the sort of situation where “everyone knows everyone else”… In spite of that, we don’t think it’s impossible for them to organize. We’ve traveled to different places outside Montevideo to discuss this with our fellow workers and to raise awareness on the rights of domestic workers. There’s a lot of work to be done, but it’s a good start.


-How did things develop from the moment your union was re-founded in 2005 to the time when the Wage Councils were convened?

-The union’s first concern is that wages be respected. For domestic workers wage increases were set based on decrees, instead of through collective bargaining like in other branches of activity. So we started knocking on doors in search of a solution. We knocked on doors from 2005, when the Wage Councils were reinstated, to 2008 -when we secured the commitment of then Minister of Labor Eduardo Bonomi to find a counterpart that would negotiate with our union.


This situation occurred because in an initial stage the Chamber of Commerce was asked to act as the negotiating counterpart, but it refused to accept, arguing that it is not representative of the domestic work sector. Then, in 2008 the League of Housewives assumed the role of counterpart and we were able to negotiate in the tripartite council scheme.


-What have been your most notable achievements since then?

-The first achievement I want to highlight is the creation of Group 21 (domestic work sector) in the Wage Councils, because as of then through collective bargaining we were able to improve our wages, working conditions, address seniority issues and all our other rights as workers. Now we are discussing union privileges and the sector’s categorization, both of which are very important issues to move forward in terms of equal labor rights.


-What are  SUTD’s short-term goals?

-Having our own union headquarters. So far we’ve been meeting in spaces loaned to us by other unions, and we’re really grateful to them for that, but it’s essential that we have our own physical space, among other things because there’s a significant number of workers from outside the capital who are working in Montevideo and who have nowhere to go when they get sick or need to have surgery. So they’re often forced to go back to work before they’re fully recovered for lack of a place to stay, and so they don’t rest as much as they need to. Having our own space would enable us to take these workers in.


Another goal we have is to increase our membership, both in Montevideo and in the rest of the country, and improve wages, which are still low for the number of ours we work (the minimum wage for a domestic worker is 4,600 pesos, or around 200 dollars).


-What message would you like to send domestic workers in other parts of Latin America?

-I would tell them that organizing is very important to improve their working conditions in general. Achieving unity in the working class is a key factor if we want to protect our rights.

From Montevideo, Amalia Antúnez


August 19, 2009





* Tripartite bargaining scheme involving management, workers and the state.

Photos: Gustavo Villarreal



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  UITA - Secretaría Regional Latinoamericana - Montevideo - Uruguay

Wilson Ferreira Aldunate 1229 / 201 - Tel. (598 2) 900 7473 -  902 1048 -  Fax 903 0905