THE RECENT adoption by the International Labor Organization (ILO) of the Convention on Domestic Workers poses a “litmus” test to governments in the Middle East. These countries are host to about 25 million of an estimated 100 million domestic workers, mostly from Asian countries.
We have noted that most of the Gulf Cooperating Council (GCC) member-countries have reservations about recognizing their domestic workers’ alienable rights as a worker and as a human being, citing “customary practices and traditions.”
Kuwait, for example, opposes the grant of days-off and specific working hours for domestic workers. On June 9, an official of Kuwait’s social affairs ministry was quoted by the Al-Qabas newspaper saying that such a grant “does not suit the habits, traditions and public ethics of Kuwait.” The Kuwaiti official added that a maid going to a place unknown to her sponsor, during her day-off, would be a violation of Kuwait’s public ethics.
It has been known that other GCC countries and non-GCC governments like Lebanon also cited “preserving tradition and modesty of maids” as reasons to restrict domestic workers’ freedom of movement and to deny them a day-off, among others.
The rights of domestic workers should not be viewed as a “threat to the host-countries’ tradition and customary laws.” A “harmonization” is possible by passing local laws that guarantee the domestic workers’ rights while respecting the habits and traditions of the host country. But we would like to see host governments implementing, on the ground, laws that guarantee and protect the rights of domestic workers.
Changing the slave-like treatment of domestic workers in the Middle East is a matter of urgent priority. This is what the ILO Convention on Domestic Workers told the host governments including Mideast countries: domestic workers have rights too, rights that governments must recognize, guarantee and protect.
The passage of local legislation or policy mandating the recognition of domestic workers’ rights and welfare by the host governments should come next.
—JOHN LEONARD MONTERONA,