|Minister of Labour Dr. Esther Byer Suckoo (fourth from left) and Director General of the ILO Dr. Juan Somavia (fifth from left) with other delegates at the conference.??|
Domestic workers are arguably a crucial thread in the fabric of Barbadian society.?? However, while these employees provide an invaluable service for the families they work with, they are often underpaid and their contribution undervalued.
This dichotomy is one that has not gone unnoticed by many in society and earlier this year, during an event to commemorate International Women’s Day, members of the Barbados Workers Union presented a petition to Minister of Labour and Social Security, Dr. Esther Byer Suckoo, advocating for improved working conditions for such workers.
While Government has always been a staunch supporter of workers’ rights, including those who work in the domestic arena, it has taken its commitment one step further and has offered its support to the newly established Convention on Domestic Workers’ Rights, which was passed in Geneva, Switzerland, during the recently held 100th International Labour Organisation Conference.
According to Dr. Byer Suckoo, who led a tripartite delegation of Government and workers’ and employee representatives to the meeting, Barbados fully supported the Convention and her Ministry had begun to put plans in place to ratify this international treaty here and to have its objectives included in local legislation.??
She touts this outcome as the most exciting one to emerge from the conference. "[It] is a significant convention, along with its recommendations …because it recognises and attempts to protect some of the most vulnerable workers in all parts of the world.?? We hear about slave shops and all these factories in the eastern countries and we think this does not happen to us and we are far removed from that…but all our countries have domestic workers and our economies are based on domestic workers because many of us could not do what we do in our workspace, if we did not have the support of our domestic workers, whose roles range from just tidying the house, to cooking the meals, minding the children and sometimes older dependents as well…
"But they [domestic workers] are often unrecognised and underpaid and in all parts of the world they are exposed to various abuses…the conditions under which they work are not always monitored and there is nobody to complain to when they think their conditions of work are less than satisfactory…and often these are people who are unskilled in other areas and do not have many other options," she underscored.
The Minister also expressed some concern for the plight of domestic workers who live-in and may not be able to fully enjoy their day off or those who are subjected to "creeping", that is, being employed to do a particular set of duties and being pressed into service in other areas.
Noting that she was aware that there was likely to be some apprehension on the part of the employers, she nevertheless pointed out that the move was necessary to provide a safe environment of work for employees.?? Dr. Byer Suckoo added that the ratification of the convention would see the revision of the Domestic Workers’ Act to make it compliant with the terms of the convention.??
The Minister further explained that the provisions of the soon to be enacted Employment Rights Bill would offer some measure of protection to such workers as it insists upon the use of a contract to outline the conditions of employment, as well as
a stipulation that contributions are made to the National Insurance Scheme for employees.
Speaking from a regional perspective and readily admitting that many of the domestic workers on the island were illegal immigrants, Dr. Byer Suckoo said that under the Caricom Single Market and Economy agreement, domestic workers had been added to the list of skilled workers being allowed to seek work freely throughout the Caribbean.?? This reality, coupled with the migration policy being developed by the Immigration Department, will ensure that once their status is regularised, our Caribbean neighbours would be afforded the same treatment offered to any Barbadian.
Additionally, Government is looking to develop National Vocational Qualifications as well as assist in the creation of Caribbean Vocational Qualifications to ensure that persons are suitably qualified in this area.??
The Minister maintains that these measures are to facilitate a safe environment for regional domestic workers, so that they no longer have to remain under the radar and suffer abuses because of their immigration status.
Presently, domestic workers currently facing difficulties on the job may contact the Chief Labour Officer who can launch an investigation into the matter.