The Kenya Union of Domestic, Hotels, Educational, Institutions and Hospital Workers (KUDHEIHA) has urged the Government and Parliament to ratify International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 189 in order to protect domestic workers.
“As we mark the International Day of Domestic Workers, we are calling upon the Government to quickly ratify this convention so as to create a better environment for all our domestic workers both locally and those in the Middle East, “said Janet Mwamburi of KUDHEIHA.
The Convention 189, which Kenya voted for at ILO Geneva in 2011, advocates for decent work for domestic workers. But it is yet to be ratified. It seeks to establish a comprehensive legal framework which acknowledges the right of domestic workers to decent living and working conditions.
According to KUDHEIHA, the convention is aimed at securing minimum protection of such workers’ rights — including information on terms and conditions of employment, hours of work, remuneration and occupational safety and health.
Mwamburi added that domestic workers require similar protection to that accorded formal employees, given they also contribute to the economy.
“The domestic work sector makes a considerable contribution to the economy and should not be ignored. The benefits of ratifying Convention 189 include enhanced protection for Kenyan domestic workers globally.”
She said that ratification of the convention will lead represent first steps in the path to addressing the history of side-lining such workers. This, she said, would boost the morale of the workers and shield them from risks posed by their employers.
Mwamburi’s sentiments were shared by Pamela Awiti, a local domestic worker based in Nairobi who said that they had been neglected by the government.
She said: “We work more than 15 hours in a day and without any leave days, yet we are paid peanuts. We do not have a voice at all. Your employer can easily terminate your contract without pay and there is nothing you can do to get your rights.”
Awiti narrated her ordeal in the hands of her former employer.
“I would wake up as early as 4:00 A.M and go to bed at midnight, and this was the routine for seven days a week for a salary of Sh 5,000 a month. I was treated like an animal in my own country, I had to lie that I have lost a relative so that I can get some off days and despite all my good work, she decided to throw out of their house in the middle of the night without pay.”
She is among the domestic workers who are subjected to silent suffering.
ILO reveals that more than half of domestic workers are women, signifying its potential in bridging the gender gap in employment.
Despite their significance, domestic workers are positioned in a sector with low implementation capacity, lack of interest in the long-term sustainability of programmes and little coordination across government agencies and partners.
Besides not being legally recognised as an occupation, it suffers discriminatory social and legal practices as well as other socio-cultural elements, which brings a low social value for it.
Kenya currently has 2 million domestic workers as per ILO report of 2011. Over 200,000 of this number are under-age children who are recruited by relatives to work for them.
“It’s very sad to see how relatives would recruit children especially from rural areas and pretend that they are going to help them but they end up mistreating them. Some have been turned into sex pets by those who are supposed to care for them,” said Colonel Oundah, the Deputy Secretary General of KUDHEIHA.
Last year Kenyan government proposed a minimum wage of Sh13,000 for workers but little has been done owing to lack of implementation strategy.
Awiti explained the hidden details barring the implementation of government directive.
“Most of us are paid between Sh4,000-7,000, this is way below what the government proposed. We cannot even negotiate for our salary with our employers since we don’t have a written agreement.”
“We get employed through verbal agreement and whether you feel oppressed or not you don’t have a say at all. Most of us are also afraid to talk about salary with our employers since you can be dismissed anytime without pay,” she said.
Globally, the Convention 189 has been ratified by 25 countries with 30 more having adopted reforms to extend protection to the workers and several others concluding collective bargaining agreements covering them.
In Africa, they are Madagascar South Africa, Guinea and Mauritius.
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