Dear Editor: Who cares about domestic workers? Certainly not our governments

“[…] In Trinidad and Tobago, domestic workers include: housekeepers, cooks, cleaners, ironers, gardeners, handymen, watchmen, in private homes. They are hired by companies for their CEOs and others who are in high management positions to provide personal and household duties. Estimates indicate that there are 10,000 domestic workers in T&T.

“These workers cannot seek remedy under the Industrial Relations (IRA); the Retrenchment and Severance Benefits Act or the Occupational Safety and Health Act. They are therefore subject to the most grievous exploitation imaginable…”

The following Letter to the Editor on the plight of domestic workers in Trinidad and Tobago was submitted by National Workers Union (NWU) officer Gerry Kangalee of Balmain:

Photo: A domestic worker on the job.

Domestic workers in this country have been treated like outcasts when it comes to enjoying rights that other workers take for granted. According to the law governing industrial relations in this country, domestic workers are not defined as workers and are excluded from the remedies available to other workers under the law.

In Trinidad and Tobago, domestic workers include: housekeepers, cooks, cleaners, ironers, gardeners, handymen, watchmen, in private homes. They are hired by companies for their CEOs and others who are in high management positions to provide personal and household duties. Estimates indicate that there are 10,000 domestic workers in T&T.

These workers cannot seek remedy under the Industrial Relations (IRA); the Retrenchment and Severance Benefits Act or the Occupational Safety and Health Act. They are therefore subject to the most grievous exploitation imaginable. Even though the law provides for them to be covered under the National Insurance Act, very few employers obey the law.

Legal discrimination against domestic workers was affecting millions of domestic workers across the globe. These workers organised themselves and networked with one another. They launched a campaign to get the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to adopt a convention providing for the same protection in law as other workers had.

Photo: Domestic workers protest for their rights.

The National Union of Domestic Employees (NUDE), led by Ida LeBlanc was a leading organisation in campaigning for the adoption of the convention. This convention was adopted by the ILO in 2011. It is called Convention 189 on decent work for domestic workers.

There was sense of satisfaction and relief when the convention was adopted, moreso as the government of Trinidad and Tobago supported the convention. The only thing left to do was for the government to bring legislation to parliament to amend the labour laws so that domestic workers would come under their protection.

That was nine years ago and the government of Trinidad and Tobago has reneged on its commitment and has refused to enact legislation. As far back as 26 July 2011, the union (NUDE) wrote then Minister of Labour, Errol McLeod, calling for speedy ratification of convention 189.

McLeod ignored them, as has Jennifer Baptiste.

There is a committee made up of business, labour and government called The ILO 144 Tripartite Consultative Committee which was established by Cabinet in May 1996. This committee was set up to fulfil the requirements of ILO Convention No 144 on Tripartite Consultations (International Labour Standards), 1976, which was ratified by Trinidad and Tobago in 1995.

Photo: Domestic workers want protection under the law.

Ratification of convention 189 was first considered by this Committee during its 2012-2014 term. This Committee unanimously agreed to recommend ratification to the minister. It proposed that the IRA be amended to include ‘domestic workers’ in the definition of ‘worker’ under the Act.

The committee also proposed that the authorities should conduct a national study on the domestic worker industry so that the measures taken to give effect to Convention 189 were relevant and appropriate.

It called for the finalisation the draft Domestic Workers Order and for inclusion of the protection of domestic workers in the amendment of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and that measures be considered through which domestic workers would be able to seek redress under the National Insurance Act.

Remember these recommendations were first made in 2012. In September 2020, eight years later, the Committee was still calling for the same recommendations made in 2012 to be adopted. They still have not been adopted.

The members of NUDE over the years have struggled hard to keep the issue in the public eye. They have written letters, given interviews, organised petitions, picketed parliament, all to no avail.

Who cares about domestic workers? The National Union of Domestic Employees certainly does! What about the government? Nah…not so much!

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