In the words of Maximina Salazar: "My friend, you have rights, don’t let others trample on them."
Maximina Salazar was born in 1952 in Pedro Carbo, a town on the outskirts of the city of Guayaquil, Ecuador. She has worked as a domestic worker since the age of 11 and started organizing domestic workers in her community after receiving trainings through the María Guare Foundation, a UN Women partner. In 2013, Salazar and her group catalyzed the Ecuadorian government to ratify the ILO Convention on Domestic Workers. Today, Ecuador is among 23 countries that have ratified this international agreement that sets labour standards for domestic workers and protects their rights.UN Women is supporting the government in implementation of the Convention and strengthening women´s worker associations.
I left the house at 6 a.m. and came back at 2 p.m. I washed clothes, mopped the floors and cleaned the kitchen. Later, I even took care of a newborn child in the family. I was 11 years old when I started working as a domestic worker to help my family.
After I got married at 19, I stopped working as my husband didn’t want me to work. He was abusive. When I finally left after 3 years, I started working as a domestic worker again. I had three daughters to support by then. At the time, domestic workers had no social insurance and no work regulations. I worked until eight or nine at night, just to afford food, shelter, basic education for my daughters and health care.
Years later, I attended women’s rights trainings at the María Guare Foundation, and learned about our rights in the workplace. We started to organize and with the support of UN Women, we set up the Association of Remunerated Household Workers. We educated ourselves and trained other domestic workers about their rights, maximum hours of work, and what to do when facing abuse.
In June 2013, we launched the campaign, “Decent work, decent life: domestic workers united for the ratification of ILO Convention 189". We went to the Ministry of Labour, to the media, and attended meetings with legislators and representatives of the International Labour Organization (ILO), as well as other associations of domestic workers in the Latin America region. We worked like ants. And, we succeeded—in late 2013, Ecuador ratified the ILO Convention 189—the international law that sets labour standards for domestic workers. It set provisions such as minimum wage entitlements, rest hours and protective measures against violence. For us, this was monumental, because now we could demand that this should become national law.
Through the Association, we have continued working with the Ministry of Labour and the Parliamentary working group on the implementation of ILO Convention 189 in Ecuador. The new labour code establishes that domestic workers must be treated as all other workers, and our contracts must include vacations and other benefits and guaranteed minimum wage. But some things are yet to change—for example,
while employers have to sign a contract with their domestic workers, the contracts lack details of the responsibilities. We may think we are being hired to do the cleaning, but it may end up being cooking, cleaning and taking care of the children. So there’s more work to be done to ensure that the law makes a real difference in our lives.
Whenever it gets too difficult, I look at my granddaughters, nieces and the girls in my community who may or may not finish school. Even if they do, would they find decent work, or end up as domestic workers? I continue organizing so that the next generation of domestic workers don’t go through what I experienced. To other women domestic workers I say, "my friend, you have rights, don’t let others trample on them."