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Harrison Ellis - Blog 1: Domestic Workers Program

Harrison Ellis - Blog 1: Domestic Workers Program

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Blog post
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The second day of my internship as a Program Assistant at the Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA) has come to an end. A general synopsis of one of the programs I am fortunate enough to be working on would make for an appropriate first entry.  So far I have been instructed to help MFA prepare for the upcoming High Level Dialogue on Migration and Development as well as their Domestic Workers Program (DPW). I would like to share some information about the DWP including its background, challenges, goals, and what I can do to help accelerate the ratification process of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 189: Decent Work for Domestic Workers and Recommendation 201.

The DWP was the first program for which MFA received funding. The program was initially issue based but transitioned into a more rights based program as it became apparent that violations of domestic workers’ labour and human rights are due to deficiencies in legal protections. Intervening at the policy advocacy level surfaced as an effective approach. The goal of the DWP is the universal ratification of ILO Convention 189: Decent Work for Domestic Workers and the accompanying Recommendation 201, adopted by the ILO on 16 June 2011. The convention legitimizes domestic labour, domestic workers’ fundamental rights to privacy and rest as well as safe, respectful and healthy working conditions by legislating consistent employment standards that protect domestic workers from arbitrary treatment. MFA consulted with the ILO tripartite, including Member States, trade unions, and employers groups, to assure that Domestic Workers were included in the process. As the secretariat, MFA engages in capacity building to help other organizations working at the grassroots level that provide direct services to domestic workers.

According to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), seven countries have ratified ILO C189. However, the official number according to the ILO is only three ratifications. Despite the fact that seven countries have ratified the convention, only three countries have submitted the ratification instrument.  Reasons for this discrepancy are technicalities, a lack of resources, and political will. Even if the document has been signed, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) must pressure governments to prioritize submitting the ratification instrument. Thus, a presence of strong CSOs acting on the ground in each country is necessary in order to fully ratify the convention. In order to ratify ILO C189, governments must harmonize their employment standards and temporary foreign workers programs (TFMPs), immigration policies regarding domestic workers and enforcement sanctions with the articles outlined ILO C189 and Recommendation 201.

MFA along with partner organizations lobbied the Philippine government to ratify the ILO C189, making the Philippines the first country to ratify the convention, a significant milestone for the rights of domestic workers. MFA seeks to share its lobbying and strategizing experience to further the ratification of ILO C189 and will not stop until both sending and receiving countries alike have ratified the convention, thus recognizing domestic work as work and domestic workers as workers. MFA’s capacity building includes facilitating training programs and designing toolkits to help grassroots organizations develop the capacity to effectively lobby their governments to ratify ILO C189. I will be helping MFA design these toolkits and training programs.

In order to expedite the ratification process, CSOs in various countries must identify, lobby and collaborate with workers groups, foster solidarity between local and migrant domestic workers, raise public awareness on the issue, obtain a copy of their government’s response to the ILO questionnaire, ensure that domestic workers are included in workers delegations, and lobby their government to ratify ILO C189. Universalizing MFA’s understanding of the policy advocacy and ratification process surrounding ILO C189 is a priority.


Harrison Ellis will be working for six months as a Program Assistant with Migrant Forum in Asia in Quezon City, Philippines.