The C189 Domestic Workers Convention 2011 is a unique international instrument to protect the rights of domestic workers across the world. Bangladesh signed the convention, but it is yet to ratify it. A total of 28 countries have already ratified the convention. Rregrettably no domestic worker receiving country has ratified it so far. The Philippines, as a distinguished source country of skilled domestic workers, ratified the convention in 2012 and since then the country has made a number of significant advancements to protect the rights of their migrant domestic workers at home and abroad. As thousands of Bangladeshi women migrate each year as domestic workers to different countries, inevitably it has become an urgent issue to ratify the convention not only in the interest of national domestic workers but also migrant workers. Only ratification of it by the domestic workers' origin country conceivably can ensure protection of overseas domestic workers' rights. Effective initiatives from the host country could also lead to crafting exploitation-free working environment. Effective implementation of the convention could minimise the exploitation and ensure decent work for both at home and abroad.
The importance of ratification of the convention by Bangladesh has been briefly described in the following paragraphs:
Protecting Human and Labour Rights of Domestic Workers: By ratifying the convention, a state will be inevitably responsible to take measures for ensuring effective promotion and protection of the human rights of all domestic workers including elimination of all forms of forced labour or compulsory labour, abolition of child labour, elimination of all kinds of discrimination and ensuring freedom of domestic workers to join organisations or federation for collective bargaining etc. (as per article 3). If it is ratified, the government of Bangladesh will also be accountable to take measures regarding: enacting laws or acts, rules and providing welfare services, establishment and functioning of a one-stop support centre and an independent complaint and grievance management cell, developing a monitoring mechanism, etc. to balance the requirement mentioned in Article 3 of the convention.
Protecting rights of child domestic workers: Since a good number of domestic workers are children, who are deprived of mainstream education and vulnerable to risky work, the convention has kept a provision for the adopting state to set the minimum level for the domestic workers as well as not depriving them of continuation of compulsory education (article 4). Though the Domestic Workers Protection and Welfare Policy 2015 of Bangladesh has set the minimum age of the workers (section 7.2, consistent with the Labour Law 2006), it has not specifically mentioned applying a similar clause in the event of the overseas domestic workers as well.
Minimizing workplace exploitation and protecting privacy of the domestic workers: Many domestic workers lack decent working conditions and scope to protect their privacy in Bangladesh and abroad. Hundreds of cases of exploitation of domestic workers like sexual abuse and harassment have been reported because of this deficiency. Therefore the convention, as per article 6, had kept the provision to make state and employers accountable to ensure decent working conditions and protecting the privacy of the domestic workers. In fact, taking such measures could minimise the rights violation of domestic workers at home and abroad. However, ensuring healthy and safe working environment for the domestic workers aside, providing good living conditions also has been kept there under Article 13 of the convention.
Ensuring decent work with benefits upholding standard job contract: Maintaining a detailed written job contract between employers and domestic workers highlighting the points including job category, remuneration and payment methods, working hours with resting periods, paid annual leaves, maternity leaves, food and accommodation facilities, scope of repatriation and termination condition is one of the good practices to ensure decent work as well as protect the rights of domestic workers. Article 7 of the convention thereof kept such a provision to maintain by the employers of the ratifying state to promote decent work for the domestic workers like other regular workers. Though the article has mentioned making the job contract in an appropriate, verifiable and easily understandable manner, almost all migrant domestic workers from Bangladesh are deprived from such benefits as the recruiting agents do not supply the job contract in an understandable manner. Therefore, to overcome such problems, Bangladesh needs to ratify the convention immediately to regularise the practices to supply job contracts as per Article 7 of the convention.
Ensure freedom of movement from workplace or residence of domestic workers: Hundreds of Bangladeshi migrant female domestic workers made complaints against their employers for confiscating their identity, travel documents and passports and imposed restriction of movement during holidays, which are obviously denial of international human rights. Therefore, the Article 9 of the convention will make the ratifying state destined to ensure freedom of movement of the domestic workers with identity documents.
Timely distribution of standard wages to domestic workers: Conflicts arise between the employers and domestic workers in many cases because of the wages. Many migrant female domestic workers, after their repatriation from overseas jobs, claim recovery of unpaid wages from employers. For that reason, the convention kept a provision to set the minimum wage coverage for the domestic workers (article 11) and methods of payment of wages once in a month to domestic workers (article 12) either in cash or through bank transfer.
Ensuring social security of the workers: Majority of the domestic workers are female, who have rights to enjoy social security protection like maternity leave during pregnancy and child birth. Therefore, the convention has kept Article No. 14 which urges the state to ensure the social security of the domestic workers. However, in their policy, Bangladesh government kept endowment to approve 16 weeks' leave with pays for the pregnant domestic workers, but yet to enforce the policy effectively.
Monitoring domestic workers' recruitment process: It has been believed that in the absence of local brokers of the recruiting agencies, fewer migrations overseas could be recorded. The local brokers (or so called Dalal or middleman) of the international recruiting agencies are playing key roles by supplying workers to international labour markets. They are sometimes accused for some unscrupulous and fraudulence activities. Though the migration of domestic workers require no charges as the government committed to promote zero migration cost for female workers, some unscrupulous private recruiting agencies charge the domestic workers or deduct their fees from their salaries, whereas it has scope to prevent such disturbing performances by applying the Article 15 of the convention. Furthermore, it kept a provision to manage the domestic workers' complaints (article 17) and control the fraudulence activities of the private recruiting agencies through reforming existing laws and acts. However, regular inspection by the authority to discern the working condition of the domestic workers could ensure the decent work for the domestic workers, which also has been mentioned to be maintained by the ratifying state in Article 17.
Access to justice: For protecting the legal rights of the domestic workers who seek justice turning to court or tribunal or other disputes resolution mechanism, the convention kept a provision for the domestic workers to effectively access the facilities provided by the government (article 16).
The demand for skilled domestic workers and caregivers is increasing globally. Transforming the population into skilled manpower could bring two benefits: meeting the domestic demand and supplying the surplus manpower to the global labour market to earn remittances. In 2018, more than 100 thousand women migrated to different countries from Bangladesh as domestic workers. Few returned after being exploited by their employers. Loopholes in the existing laws create scope for the unscrupulous recruiting agencies to send domestic workers without any protective measures. However, the domestic workers hosting countries are not the states ratifying the ICRMW 1990 and the C189. Therefore, these states are not internationally bound to respect the rights of domestic workers and still following 'Kafala' (sponsoring) system, which treats the domestic workers like slaves. As an origin country of domestic workers, Bangladesh government has the responsibilities to prevent fraudulence activities of recruiting agencies and promote decent work for domestic workers at home and beyond. Only having a policy without any laws or acts or any regulatory mechanism cannot ensure protection of rights of domestic workers. Only the ratification of the C189 can bring changes in the entire system and open other windows on ensuring decent working environment for domestic workers at home and abroad.
Aminul Hoque Tushar is a migrant rights activist.