Two years after the International Labour Organisation adopted Convention 189 on the rights of domestic workers, Germany today became the ninth country to ratify it. As well as being only the second country in Europe to ratify C189, this was also one of the fastest ratification processes in German history.
As early as the 2011 International Labour Conference, German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her support for the convention, demonstrating that the political will of the government was always there.
Eleven months later, the German Confederation of Trade Unions‘ (DGB) Hans-Böckler-Foundation published research which revealed that there was no legal hindrance to the German ratification of C189 and no laws would need to be changed.
This has so far been the one precondition for all German governments since 1945 wanting to ratify international conventions: the law must be in line with the international treaty they are going to ratify.
This why it took more than seven years to ratify the Maritime Labour Convention, which was also passed today by the federal parliament.
In this case awhole new labour law had to be written.
But after the celebrations, what comes next?
The situation for domestic workers in Germany is as follows: 95 per cent of the country’s estimated 700,000 domestic workers are paid cash-in-hand.
In many cases, these men and women work a few hours here and a few hours there.
As a consequence, workers get no sick pay, no unemployment benefit and no employer pension. But in addition, they do not pay taxes which should be of interest to the German government.
Ratifying the convention was done by excluding more than 50,000 people, namely the 24-hour care workers helping elderly people at home.
For us as unions, the real work to get a hold on this informal sector has now to follow.
We need a public debate on the infomal economy. Paying domestic workers ‘off the books‘ should not be accepted in our society as a trivial offence.
It has to become the normal procedure that someone employed by a household is entitled to employment protection through social security.
We also need a sustainable system that offers decent work conditions to domestic workers and allows households still to get the help they need.
The way one is able to register a domestic worker today as a so-called "minijob" – allowing household workers to earn up to 400 euros per month – is not practical.
No-one can live off of this amount of money and but they are also prohibited from having more than one minijob.
Finally, we need to provide social security from the first hour onwards and we need to get the collective bargaining agreement between the Food, Beverages and Catering Union NGG and the employers association Netzwerk Haushalt to be generally binding.
The ratification was a great first step but now we need to make these changes to have a real impact on the lives of domestic workers in Germany.