Domestic workers in Barbados have rights to decent work and the relevant legislation needs to be modernised to address the work environment.

These matters were discussed this week, as representatives from the Ministry of Labour, Social Security and Human Resource Development, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) and other relevant agencies gathered at the Amaryllis Resort for a seminar on The International Labour Office (ILO) Convention 189 ??? Decent Work for Domestic Workers.

Chief Labour Officer, Vincent Burnett, explained that although legislation which explains the rights of such employees exists, the Domestic Employees Act (1961) was outdated and as such, changes were necessary to address current work circumstances.

While the ILO Convention 189 seeks to outline minimum standards for decent work for those in the industry, Representative of the UN Women Multi-Country Office, in the Caribbean, Christine Arab, stressed that its purpose was not to be protectionist.

???In a sector where women more strongly dominate than men, often those sectors can be vulnerable to abuse. In the case of domestic workers, of course, the incredible isolation that you face makes you very vulnerable???One of the challenges we face is avoiding legislation from becoming protectionist.?? ??

??????A lot of labour legislation has actually set out to protect women from abuse or violence, but thereby makes them unemployable or limits their opportunity.?? So, it???s the same concept that a woman shouldn???t work in a mine because a mine is dangerous; [instead] the approach should be that a mine should be safe for [any worker] – both women and men,??? she explained.

Dr. Janice Cumberbatch, who has been facilitating research to support Barbados??? efforts to ratify the Domestic Workers Convention, pointed out that this was all part of an overall study on domestic workers in Barbados. She said that it was designed ???to feed into the changes of the legislation and changes at the institutional level that would be required for the ratification of the Convention???. ??

She noted that a critical part of this research was a definition of terms, with the Convention defining domestic work as ???work performed in or for a household???.

???A critical point is that what is defined as domestic work in Barbados covers a really wide, diverse range of tasks and activities. Consequently, when we put law in place, we have to be able to reflect that diversity. The person who is driving children to and from school [may] not be the same person who is coming to press clothes???We have this new Employment Rights Act this year, and it requires all employment circumstances to have a written contract. ??

That hardly ever happens in the context of domestic work,??? Dr. Cumberbatch observed, adding that this was largely due to the cultural view of domestic work as ???woman???s work???.

She also noted that while the application of best practices from New York, Bolivia and South Africa would serve the Barbados model well, there would still be challenges in creating a baseline for an industry as diverse as domestic work. Additional information on Convention 189 may be obtained by visiting

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