A former domestic worker for more than 20 years, founding member and President of Jamaica Household Workers’ Association (JHWA) Shirley Pryce has taken great strides to advocate for the rights of women domestic workers. Through JHWA she has supported essential services, such as seminars that educate domestic workers and employers on their rights and responsibilities, and has partnered with the Government of Jamaica’s Human Employment and Resource Training Trust (HEART) and the National Training Authority to provide skills training with a view on transitioning into higher-paying professions.
On 7-8 September 2011, Pryce will take her work a step further by representing her organization at a regional conference in Kingston, Jamaica, under the theme: “Migrant Domestic Workers at the Interface of Migration and Development: Action to Expand Good Practice.”
Organized by the Government of Jamaica, UN Women and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the conference focuses on the need to implement protections for domestic workers in Latin America and the Caribbean and is one of a series of regional events being held in the lead up to the Global Forum on Migration and Development 2011 in partnership with the Government of Switzerland, Chair of the GFMD 2011.
The conference will convene key government actors, technical experts, civil society members and representatives of regional and international organizations, providing them a forum to share good practices on implementing labour and social protection and harnessing remittances, savings, investments, including diaspora investments, and asset building for domestic workers. Participants will work to create a gender-sensitive checklist for labour laws, recognizing domestic work and employment contracts for domestic workers, including migrant workers.
“I hope that laws will be put in place to recognize domestic work as real work and to provide security for domestic workers throughout the region,” Pryce says.
In particular, Pryce hopes that the conference will bring renewed commitment by governments to implement the international human rights standards that protect domestic workers at the national level. These standards form a framework of protections for domestic workers — a framework that includes the recently adopted ILO Convention and Recommendation on Decent Work for Domestic Workers in June 2011, which outline international human rights standards that protect domestic workers and obligate governments to provide labour and social protections for domestic workers; the General Comment on Migrant Domestic Workers by the Committee on Migrant Workers in December 2010, and the CEDAW General Recommendation on Women Migrant Workers, including Domestic Workers, in November 2008.
Despite the existence of these standards, domestic workers continue to be at the risk of being exploited and denied basic human right globally. According to ILO, domestic workers remain unprotected by labour laws in around 40 percent of the world’s countries, often excluded from labour and social protections.
The Government of Jamaica’s decision to host the meeting is especially significant for Pryce, given the number of domestic workers in the region. Second to Asia, the Latin America and the Caribbean region accounts for 37.3 percent of the domestic workers labour force — more than 90 percent of them are women. According to 2010 estimates, domestic workers are employed in approximately 58,000 households in Jamaica.
But that number is far from reality, says Pryce, who believes there are almost twice as many domestic workers in Jamaica that go unreported. For Pryce and other advocates of domestic workers’ rights, it is the faces behind the numbers who matter. She works closely with her organization’s 1600 members, mostly women aged 25 to 65 and many without formal education, to improve their living and working conditions and to support their right to seek decent work and viable, sustainable employment.
With these domestic workers in mind, Pryce is determined to strengthen existing relationships with the Government of Jamaica, UN Women and the ILO, and to solidify partnerships with other domestic workers’ organizations across the Latin America and Caribbean region, such as the National Union of Domestic Employees (NUDE) of Trinidad and Tobago, and the Confederation of Domestic Workers Confederation of Domestic Workers from Latin America and the Caribbean (CONLACTRAHO).
The conference will be “a learning experience,” says Pryce. Not only will participants forge invaluable links, but they will also “come away richer” and apply the knowledge they have gained in their own countries. This is important, says Pryce, as Caribbean domestic workers move between the islands for work.
“This event will educate the nation, it will spread our message that domestic workers must be recognized and respected,” Pryce says.