Moves to ratify convention on domestic workers underway

By Kumudini Hettiarachchi

Sri Lanka is to appoint a committee shortly to study the existing laws with regard to domestic workers, bring about amendments and then ratify the UN Convention on Domestic Workers adopted in June in Geneva.

“We will appoint a committee to study our own laws and recommend amendments. Thereafter, we will ratify the Convention,” said Labour Minister Gamini Lokuge.

Hailed with euphoria worldwide as “historic”, the 189th Convention on Domestic Workers and the supplementing 201st recommendation were adopted on June 16 by government, worker and employee delegates at the 100th annual conference of the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Geneva.

The Convention defines domestic work as work performed in or for a household or households. While the new instruments cover all domestic workers, they provide for special measures to protect those workers who, because of their young age or nationality or live-in status, may be exposed to additional risks relative to their peers, among others.

The ILO estimates that there are around 53 to 100 million domestic workers worldwide, while in Sri Lanka there were no proper statistics on those employed under this category, the Sunday Times found.
At a recent discussion at the UN office in Colombo, Senior Gender Specialist Reike Tsushima of ILO South Asia pointed out that the key message is that domestic workers were like other workers and have the right to “decent working and living conditions”. The Convention also reflects a strong recognition of the economic and social value of domestic workers, she said.

In Sri Lanka, there were mixed feelings, with many sources commending the Convention but at the same time highlighting the difficulties faced in implementing it “if and when Sri Lanka ratifies it”.
Explaining that currently domestic workers come under archaic laws, a source said there are many hidden problems with regard to this issue. The only condition with regard to domestic workers is very old and that just stipulates that they need to be registered at the nearest police station, but repealing the laws will take a long time.

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