At the mercy of the employer

Housemaids, nannies, butlers and gardeners have one thing in common: they work in private households and have few rights. This is now to change: Next year, the International Labor Organization ILO is planning a convention on the rights of domestic workers, which is already under discussion.

Rebecca Pabon works for the Federation of Dutch Trade Unions FNV as "Organizer. The young woman with the bright red dyed hair is on the road in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague to convince domestic workers of the benefits of union membership. It is "very laborious," explains the Puerto Rican, who once came to the Netherlands as a housemaid herself. That she speaks Spanish as well as English and Dutch is important because most domestic workers are migrants. In the Netherlands, many Filipino women traditionally work as housemaids.

One of them is Lorie Matulay from Amsterdam, who says: "We don't want pity, we want rights." She takes care of three children of one family. "Why are we paid so little when we are entrusted with the most important thing, our own children?"

Worldwide, most domestic workers are migrants. Or, in other words, migrants come to paid work with a job in a private household. Their employers often do not ask for residence papers. But without papers, migrants not only have to fear police checks, they are also defenceless against their employers. Peter Verhaeghe, responsible for migration ies at Caritas Europa in Brussels, says domestic workers are often subjected to violence and sexual assault. Some employers even confiscate the passports of their domestic workers in order to retain them.

The Catholic relief organization Caritas is not only committed to domestic workers at the European level, but also maintains counseling centers in Lebanon, for example. A "safe house" in Lebanon offers refuge to domestic workers who have been beaten or sexually harassed. Most domestic workers there are from Sri Lanka. Caritas also provides information in the country of origin about working conditions abroad, so that people who are willing to leave the country can form realistic ideas about the situation.

3.8 million families in Germany with domestic workers
Currently, around 3.8 million families in Germany employ domestic workers. The trend is increasing as more women work, the more they seek white-collar support. In addition, the proportion of older people in society is increasing, and they more often need help in the home or in caring for themselves.

Some states have found a way to lead domestic workers' labor out of the underground economy. This is how the Dutch government gives out "service checks". Private households use the checks to pay for the work of domestic workers. The state subsidizes the checks and deducts social security contributions. Agencies set up to organize operations. Everyone benefits from this system: domestic workers have access to social security, they pay taxes to the state, and private employers are sure that everything is done legally. However, this system does not reach those who live in the Netherlands without a valid residence status.

To strengthen the rights of all domestic workers worldwide – with valid ID or without – the International Labor Organization (ILO) plans to adopt a convention at its next session next June. It should determine who is considered a domestic worker, what wages are the minimum and what working hours are the maximum, how discrimination is prevented. The sticking point: a majority of ILO members must approve the convention. Across Europe, trade unions and non-governmental organizations are currently lobbying to gather votes for the convention.

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