In Paraguay (paid) domestic work represents the main source of employment for thousands of women who live in poverty, a situation that affects 34 percent of the population.
For some time UN Women has been supporting the strengthening of organizations for domestic workers in collaboration with Asociación Trinidad (Trinity Association) as part of the Joint Opportunities Programme, Youth, capacities and opportunities for social inclusion, with funds for achieving the Millennium Development Goals, and also through its regional programme Race, Ethnicity and Gender. The objectives of these programmes are to promote the access of domestic workers to knowledge and greater awareness about their rights, the development of organizational capacities and a public platform for the defense of these rights; as well as to support institutional arrangements that facilitate working conditions that are more equitable for them.
Current labor laws discriminate against domestic work, in so much as it mandates that a female domestic worker can only earn up to 40 per cent of the legal minimum wage, that these workers do not have the right to an 8 hour working day, and that they do not have retirement privileges – These rights are guaranteed for other categories of work. Up until recently the insurance of the Social Security Institute (IPS) was extended to the whole of Paraguay whereas previously it had been limited to Asunción, the capital of the country. Being as it is a new right, there is little understanding of its nature and the degree of compliance with this labor right is still low.
Marciana Santander, in her capacity as President of the Association of Domestic Service Workers of Paraguay (AESDP) attended the meeting that Michelle Bachelet, the Executive Director of UN Women, held on the second day of her visit to Paraguay with women community leaders, domestic workers and young women who were participating in projects supported by UN Women.
Marciana represented the organizations that had been formed in Paraguay and shared the progress and challenges that they encounter. “We believe that an extremely important milestone was the extension of the coverage of the IPS. Moreover, this year domestic workers participated in the 100th International Labor Conference in Geneva and we were in a position to support the approval of the Convention for Decent Domestic Work and its recommendations; and, additionally, we were able to continue strengthening our own organizations,” she recounts.
Although progress can be witnessed, some challenges persist: profound cultural change needs to be implemented, discriminatory actions against employees are still occurring, attitudes limiting access to education are still existent.
“One of the greatest challenges that we face is to achieve the ratification of Convention 189 and its implementation in Paraguay, which will later make possible the adjustment of legislation and enable us to keep on making progress until we achieve the right to pensions, 8-hour working days, a minimum wage and paid holidays,” Marciana says.
Another significant step forward has been the recent installation of a national service office that specializes in domestic work, organized from within the Ministry for Justice and Labor. The Service Center for Domestic Workers (CATD) provides information, guidance and mediation services. Beginning next year, the office will serve the whole of Paraguay, through the National Employment Offices run by the Ministry of Justice and Labor.