Domestic workers want better working and living conditions

Unions organising domestic workers pledged to improve working and living conditions of their members. Photo by Qhama Mroleli

The International Domestic Worker Federation concluded its congress in Cape Town on Monday, 19 November.

An international gathering of domestic workers resolved to prioritise and intensify the organising of migrant workers as they are the most vulnerable among them. The 4-day congress of the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF) that was held in Cape Town ended on Monday. More than 200 guests from 55 countries decided among other resolutions to campaign for the eradication of gender-based violence and to push for occupational health and safety standards for domestic workers.

Solidarity with migrant workers who as a result of displacement find themselves in foreign countries, was a central theme of the congress. The IDWF identified some of the important interventions it has to make as the inclusion in salary negotiations of equal pay for migrants and local workers and the need for extensive research to understand what is happening in the region.

Asamau Bah from Guinea-Bissau told the congress about how they managed to stop a syndicate that, operating from a Mali airport, was selling domestic workers to Gulf states. Speaking to Elitsha with the help of an interpreter, Bah said that the syndicate was luring women in West Africa and flying them to Gulf states via Addis Ababa. “The agency was operating from Mali Airport and women would be flown to Addis and be sold like slaves to Arabs from Gulf States. Once the person leaves, they do not return back,” she said.

Bah started doing domestic worker from the age of 12. “I knew nothing else besides working. When other children were playing, I was working. I did not have parents,” said the General Secretary of SYNEM, the domestic workers union in Guinea.

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“Women and young girls were sold in the same manner that slaves were in the past. They face exploitation and low salaries,” said Bah.

During the plenary, the executive director of United Domestic Workers of America, Doug Moore, appealed to the participants to consider including in the declaration of the congress a point about migration policies of the United States . “We need to strongly condemn the US attitude towards migrants coming from Central America pushed by Dump, by which I mean Trump,” he said.

During the congress opening on Friday, Cosatu’s president Zingiswa Losi urged the union representatives to organise migrant domestic workers. Domestic work is often done by migrant workers and the rightward shift in governments around the world and rise in racist nationalism that came with the Trump era, has made the position of domestic workers more precarious.

The congress agreed that the IDWF will release a statement to the Brazilian government “to demand respect of human and trade union rights.” Brazil voted in far-right Jair Bolsonaro over Fernando Haddad of the leftist Workers Party in October. Bolsonaro will officially take over as from the 1st of January 2019.


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