by Francesca Merico, Caritas Internationalis
Geneva – On 2 December 2010, the United Nations Committee on Migrant Workers (CMW), the body that monitors the implementation of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW), adopted its first General Comment, which is focused on the rights of migrant domestic workers.
The General Comment gives guidance on the interpretation and implementation of the ICRMW and states that all the provisions contained in the Convention apply to migrant domestic workers as well.
What makes me really proud is that Caritas Internationalis put forward this issue as a suggested theme for the day of General Discussion held by the Committee in October 2009; this subsequently led to the drafting process of the General Comment on Migrant Domestic Workers.
What gives me joy is that many people around the world will benefit from this important peace of jurisprudence.
Indeed, the Committee’s first draft General Comment on Migrant Domestic Workers is most urgently needed given the large numbers of migrants who are working as domestic workers, and their vulnerability due to their often-undocumented status.
Several Caritas member organizations working with migrant domestic workers have repeatedly reported a wide variety of human rights violations endured by migrant domestic workers. Verbal, physical and sexual abuse, labour exploitation, excessive workloads and insufficient or poor quality food are examples of such violations. In many countries, migrant domestic workers are unable to exercise the rights and freedoms granted by labour law to other workers; they lack social security benefits; and they cannot access to health care services. Living in isolation in a foreign country, literally behind closed doors and out of the public eye, these migrant workers find themselves extremely vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
The CMW General Comment No.1 is an important step forward for the protection of the rights of million of individuals, accounting for up to 10% of total employment in some countries. The adoption of this Comment also represents an important achievement for Caritas, that through its campaign “Under one roof, under one law: equal rights for migrant domestic workers”, has been raising awareness on the human rights violations of migrant domestic workers, urging governments to recognize domestic service as “employment”, and has been calling for legislation that extends the protection of international labour standards to migrant domestic workers, irrespective of their migratory status.
The General Comment recognizes domestic work as “employment” and that migrant domestic workers must enjoy no less favourable treatment than that which applies to nationals of the State of employment. It affirms their rights to freedom of movement and residence; to retain possessions of their travel and identity documents; the right to organize for collective bargaining and protection; to access justice and remedies; to practice a religion; and to gain access to regular migration status. It talks about respect for the family unit and it has special protection measures for children.
The General Comment is the result of a strong process of collaboration which involved the CMW and the OHCHR Secretariat, supported by Caritas Internationalis, several national Caritas member organizations, ICMC, the NGO Platform on the Migrant Workers Convention and many other organizations engaged in the field of human rights.
Now, we must make sure that this important piece of jurisprudence becomes widely known, including by migrant domestic workers themselves. As one means of its implementation and of fostering the promotion of the human rights of migrant domestic workers, I would encourage Caritas members to make use of the Confederation’s vast reach to speak as one voice about the plight of migrant domestic workers and about the legal instruments that promote and protect their rights. In addition, the UN human rights mechanisms are tools we should further utilize. Such actions could include reporting to the UN Committee on Migrant Workers, the UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking, the Special Rapporteur on the Contemporary Forms of Slavery, the one on the human rights of migrants, and to the Universal Periodic Review System on human rights violations directed at migrant domestic workers.
What else should we do? Caritas Internationalis will continue to advocate for the International Labour Organization’s Convention on domestic workers – Decent work for domestic workers – expected to be considered in June 2011, and to call for a wider ratification of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.
Under one roof, under one law: equal rights for migrant domestic workers. We are a step closer now.
The text of the CMW General Comment No 1 will be soon available at http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cmw/index.htm