Protect domestic workers, ratify ‘C189’

Purple S. Romero

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Will the Philippines take the next step in preventing the abuse of domestic workers?

EQUAL RIGHTS. Migrant workers' groups demand social protection for employees overseas.

MANILA, Philippines – It’s a story you hear every day. May it be in the concrete jungles of Manila, or in an impoverished far-flung area, the Pearl of the Orient has a few left opportunities for the struggling Filipino family to earn just enough for a daily decent meal.

Hence, a mother, a son, any member of the household is likely to opt for venturing to a different land and workplace, in the hopes of earning more. Sometimes they do live the dream, but there are times when they see the dream turn into a nightmare.

Since the story has become so familiar, worker rights’ groups thought that the Philippine government will immediately move to ensure the protection of domestic workers by ratifying a landmark instrument that will globally set the standards for domestic workers’ rights.

But it’s been almost a year since the International Labor Organization Convention 189 (C189) has been adopted, but not one country — including the Philippines — has ratified it yet. C189 has to be ratified by at least 2 countries before it can take effect. The legally-binding agreement mandates countries to put in place regulations that ensure the promotion and protection of  the basicrights of domestic workers.

These include:

  • decent hours of work
  • a weekly rest day
  • freedom of association and recognition of right to collective bargaining
  • a safe and healthy working environment and decent living conditions
  • social protection
  • effective access to the court, tribunals and dispute settlement mechanisms
  • a written contract prior to traveling to a receiving country


The Philippines is one of the countries that pushed for its adoption in 2011 (the country headed the ILO committee on domestic workers in June), hence worker rights’ advocates are hopeful the country will follow through and make sure the convention is upheld.

The Philippines, after all, deploys tens of thousands of domestic workers every year overseas — the figures reached 90,000 as of 2010 (the latest available data from the Philippine government).

As of now, however, the ratification of C189 remains at step one: at the level of the Department of Foreign Affairs. From there, the instrument should be sent to the Office of the President for endorsement. After the President endorses it, C189 will be transmitted to the Senate for concurrence. The Senate will then put the ratification to a vote.

Equal rights

Agnes Matienzo, program officer of Migrant Forum Asia said that if the Philippines ratifies the convention, its “bargaining power” with destination countries will be strengthened. It  could invoke its ratification of C189 to lobby for the passage of bills that would provide equal rights for domestic workers in the countries they work in.

Ganga Khatiwada of the Coalition for Migrants Rights, an international labor rights group, agreed. Based in Hong Kong, Khatiwada said he believes the ratification of C189 will persuade Hong Kong and China to reconsider policies barring domestic workers from becoming permanent residents. Only permanent residents can avail of social security assistance in the affluent city-state.

This is an exigent issue especially for the Philippines, as it was a Filipina herself, Evangeline Banao Vallejos, who challenged the prohibition before the Court of First Instance. Vallejos won her case in September 2011.

It was a celebrated case, but the victory was short-lived not only for Vallejos, but for the rest of 286,000 domestic workers in Hong Kong. The Court of Appeal overturned the ruling in March 2012.

Khatiwada said they will send Hong Kong and China separate petitions to pressure them to ratify C189 (Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China). “It (C189) supports the residency issue because it guarantees equality,” he said.

He added they are hopeful China will ratify the convention because it voted for its adoption on June 16, 2011, but Khatiwada admitted the ratification may not come soon. “We hope that China will ratify this one, but we are not sure.”

World Social Forumn on Migration

Lobbying for the ratification of C189 is a complex task. Advocates are aware that governments will have to consider not only the welfare of migrant workers but also the concern of employers in weighing this issue.

Hildegard Hagemann of the German Commission for Justice and Peace said the employers are more amenable to recommendations, but not to a convention. “Generally, employers are always the one to say, ‘We don’t need this,'” she said.

The battle is not yet lost, however, as Hagemann said some employer-organizations that have entered into collective bargaining agreements back the ratification of C189. When asked when Germany would ratify the convention, Hagemann said they hope there would be positive developments by the end of the year.

The ratification of C189 is one of the central issues that will be discussed in November 2012, when the Philippines hosts the 5th World Social Forum on Migration.

By the time November comes around, however, workers’ rights groups are hoping they would already have the 2 country-champions for C189 ratification. Question is, will the Philippines be one of them? – Rappler. com  


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