Elaine Duncan, current president of the Jamaica Household Workers’ Union (JHWU) has said that it is imperative that the Jamaican government ratifies and implements the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Convention 190 in the name of all workers with a special focus on protecting the rights of domestic workers.
As stated by the ILO, Convention No. 190 (or C190) is the first international treaty that recognises the right of everyone to a world of work free from violence and harassment, including gender-based violence and harassment.
“Last year, on June 16, we had the privilege of meeting Prime Minister Holness who expressed his support for our cause. We also engaged in multiple discussions with the former Minister of Labour and Social Security, Karl Samuda who echoed his support. Additionally, Minister Grange, who has been instrumental in championing the Sexual Harassment Act that also protects domestic workers, has shown support for Convention 190. It is now time to translate their support into concrete action,” said Duncan.
It was on June 13, during her presentation in the 2023/24 Sectoral Debate, that Olivia Grange, minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport shared that the Sexual Harassment Act will come into effect on July 3rd.
Duncan was delivering the opening remarks at the JHWU 32nd Anniversary and Commemoration for International Domestic Workers’ Day 2023 on Friday (June 16).
The JHWU president highlighted some of the work that the organisation has done in its 32 years, noting the numerous training sessions aimed at empowering and uplifting their members.
Duncan added that the organisation has “tirelessly advocated for improvements in minimum wage standards and work towards securing better protection and decent work for domestic workers.”
“Today, our Union has over 7,200 members spread across 13 chapters and nine parishes. Our collective fight has been unwavering because we firmly believe that domestic workers are workers who deserve decent work. We have successfully lobbied the government of Jamaica to ratify Convention 189 in 2016. However, we are acutely aware that substantial challenges still persist for the nearly 100,000 domestic workers across our country. Ratification is an important step but we now urge the government to enforce the provision of Convention 190 in Jamaica,” she said.
Duncan shared that only 3 per cent of domestic workers currently benefit from the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) “leaving the majority without essential benefits such as maternity leave, sick leave with pay, or a pension upon retirement.”
“The JHWU remains resolute in our fight for true social protection for all domestic workers. Furthermore, the issue of violence and harassment in the workplace continues to affect many of our domestic workers who endure it silently in order to maintain their employment given that our workplace is often somebody’s home and the nature of our work can be isolating for mostly women who are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment. This is an awful violation of our rights and we can’t tolerate it any longer,” she said, highlighting the need for the government to ratify the ILO’s C190.
Domestic Workers Crucial and Life Sustaining
Vera Guseva, workers activities specialist at ILO Caribbean, speaker on a panel discussion at the event, said that, “We can’t deny that domestic workers are crucial in supporting Jamaican families and households in the role they fulfill. From cleaning to cooking to caring for children, older people and people with disabilities, the work of domestic workers is critical and life sustaining.”
“Domestic workers are particularly vulnerable to violence and harassment at work due to a confluence of factors. Work is often carried out behind closed doors in isolation,” she said, indicating that the working environment also impacts the occupational safety and health standards of the men and women in the field.
“By ratifying the domestic workers convention 189 back in 2016, Jamaica already recognised the true value of domestic workers and started to put in place infrastructure to protect their rights. Ratification of Convention 190 will further benefit domestic workers but also wider workers throughout the country,” she added.
Guseva shared that where Convention 189 requires member states to address violence and harassment specifically to domestic workers, Convention 190 aims to protect workers and other persons including employees and persons working a respectable job with financial status, persons in training, interns and apprentices, workers whose employment have been terminated, volunteers, job seekers, and job applicants.
“It recognises that individuals exercising their authority to the responsibilities of an employer can also be subjected to violence and harassment. So, everyone in the world of work is to be covered by the protection of Convention 190,” she said.
For her part, Imani Duncan-Price, Caribbean Coordinator of the International Domestic Workers’ Federation (IDWF) said that the celebration of International Domestic Workers Day 2023 marked the 12 year anniversary of Convention 189 being passed and represents decent work for domestic workers.
“This Union was a part of the successful fight for the passing of that Convention in Jamaica,” she said.
She also noted that the C189 forced governments to put in place laws, programmes, and policies to ensure that domestic workers are respected across the globe, and receive decent wages.
“So, this is the day that the convention was passed. So, every year, we come together as the Jamaica Household Workers’ Union to celebrate because it’s also the JHWU’s anniversary,” Duncan-Price said.
To date, Convention 190 has been ratified by 31 countries including three Caribbean countries: Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, and Barbados, with hopes that Jamaica will join the list in short order.
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