By Maria Pia Kirk Berastain
—After suffering the recent veto of the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in California, and a year after the successful approval of Convention no. 189: Decent Work for Domestic Workers of the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Switzerland, the results from the survey conducted by the National Domestic Workers Alliance have brought a light of hope to the movement for domestic workers’ rights.
Home Economics: The Invisible and Unregulated World of Work Inside the Home, released on the 27th of November, presents the results of a survey in which members of The Women’s Collective administered. The report is a big step for the domestic workers’ movement in opening the eyes of those for whom domestic workers are an invisible workforce.
According to the information published in Convention No. 189 of the ILO, 52.6 million women and men over 15 years of age are primarily employed as domestic workers. This number represents about 3.6 per cent of the world’s workforce. Women constitute 43.6 million, or approximately 83 per cent of the total. Domestic workers represent 7.5 per cent of the feminine workforce employed worldwide.
The convention provides some context for the importance of domestic workers across: “Domestic work is still undervalued and made invisible. It is mainly performed by women and girls, many of whom are immigrants or are a part of disadvantaged communities. They are particularly vulnerable to discriminatory employment and exploitative work conditions, as well as other human rights abuses,” from the preamble of Convention No.189.
Despite the approval of Convention No. 189, which calls for reasonable work hours, at least 24 consecutive hours of rest per week, consolidating and standardizing forms of payments, clear information about the terms and conditions of employment, and the freedom to join a union and negotiate collectively, the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights for California, which was largely modeled after the ILO’s convention, was not approved. With the following results from the first national survey of domestic workers, injustices in the workplace are made visible in the United States. Domestic workers hope that these results will influence the future approval of a Domestic Worker’s Bill of Rights.
Two thousand and eighty-six caretakers and house cleaners were surveyed in 14 metropolitan areas. The survey was carried out in nine languages, and administered to workers of 71 nationalities. One-hundred and ninety domestic workers and organizers of 34 community organizations collaborated with the design of the survey, its implementation, and the preliminary analysis of the information.
According to results from the survey, 23% of the surveyed workers receive salaries below the state minimum wage. Seventy percent receive less than $13 an hour and 63% of in home care takers receive salaries below the minimum wage, $6.15 being the average hourly salary of surveyed women. Sixty percent of those surveyed spend more than half of their income on rent or mortgage payments, and 37 % of those surveyed have fallen behind on rent during the previous year.
The survey also touched upon the topic of workers’ health. These were the results: thirty five per cent report having worked long hours with no rest in the past 12 months. Twenty-five per cent of in home care takers had responsibilities that prevented them from having at least 5 hours of continuous rest in the week prior to taking the survey. Thirty-eight percent had suffered from work related pain in their wrists, shoulder, elbow, or hip in the last 12 months, 29 % of house cleaners have suffered skin irritation, and 20 % had respiratory problems in the last 12 months.
These statistics make visible exploitation and suffering that is common occurrence and that normally goes undocumented. In better informing ourselves, we lift stigma from around domestic workers and arm ourselves to do better by those who clean our homes and take care of our loved ones.
For more information regarding data from the national survey visit: http://www.domesticworkers.org/homeeconomics/
Translation: Marianella Aguirre