Domestic workers inspire the global movement for rights


Domestic workers around the world have been organising for years to secure decent wages, benefits and recognition.

This past summer, domestic workers and their allies celebrated a major global victory after the Philippines joined Uruguay in becoming the second country to ratify International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 189, Decent Work for Domestic Workers.

The convention addresses issues such as working conditions, wages, benefits and child labour and goes into effect one year after two countries approve it.

This milestone was reached through key partnerships between domestic workers and trade unions striving to raise the status of domestic workers on an international scale.

The AFL-CIO, which represents US labour in the tripartite International Labor Organization system, included a domestic worker, Juana Flores, in its delegation so that domestic workers could have a voice and an official vote during the convening.

This effort was an important reminder of the strategic value of partnerships and how working people can stand together to advocate for and win better working conditions for all.

In the US, the AFL-CIO has formally partnered with the National Domestic Workers Alliance to support mutual collaborations and strengthen labour standards for domestic workers and unions.

For example, in New York State, domestic workers alongside unions worked together for six years to secure and implement a statewide Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights.

In 2011, the National Domestic Workers Alliance launched an effort in California to pass a bill of rights that would have required basic labour protections.

California was poised to be the second state in the country to pass this kind of legislation.

Domestic workers like Juana Flores, who worked as a nanny in California, often worked long hours with no right to overtime, a rest break or lunch.

She’s now the co-director of Mujeres Unidas y Activas, which spearheaded the campaign for the new law.

The law would have extended the rights that nearly all other workers have to domestic workers, who are primarily foreign-born and women of colour.

The campaign – with strong support from the AFL-CIO, as well as faith communities, civil rights groups and celebrities – was successful.

It got the bill of rights through the state legislature. Unfortunately, California’s governor failed to sign it.

By continuing the legacy of excluding legal protections for California’s 200,000 nannies, housekeepers, home health aides and other domestic workers, the governor chose to side with the Chamber of Commerce, which was actively opposing the legislation.

It is a deeply disappointing choice, but his veto demonstrates why working people must stand together to amplify our voice and power.

It is clear now more than ever that the labour movement and the domestic workers’ movement need to continue to work together to protect the rights of all workers.

Working men and women across the globe remain inspired by the advocacy and leadership of domestic workers.

Today, domestic workers, working families, faith communities, unions and other allies continue to stand strong. Our movement for all working people is not defined by one law. It is defined by the work that connects us all, our commitment to equal rights and the opportunity for all communities to achieve a better life.

In the US, the labour movement continues to forge new partnerships with day labourers, taxi workers, domestic workers and other worker centres built around the dignity of all work.

Communities around the country are joining together in our fight to reestablish opportunity and fairness.

The governor can veto a law, but he can’t veto a movement.

The movement of working families behind California’s Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights and other important working family initiatives has brought national and international attention to the plight of domestic workers and the need to fight for dignity, decent pay, good benefits and a secure retirement for all working people.

America’s working families remain committed to continuing the struggle for economic and social justice for all of us.