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Caribbean domestic workers demand better conditions

Co-Convenor of the Caribbean Domestic Workers Network (CDWN) Ida Le Blanc, 2nd Co-convenor of CDWN Shirley Pryce, CDWN Chairman Alrick Daniel and Red Thread Secretary Joycelyn Bacchus.

The Caribbean Domestic Workers Network (CDWN) on Sunday urged other labour unions to embrace domestic workers unions as they fight for better conditions of work as well as benefits under Caricom’s free movement of persons regime.

“We find that trade unions are not lending their support to domestic workers in the region…so we are also calling on trade union leaders who say that they support the working class people, the grassroots people… you are hearing it but you are not seeing it,” CDWN Chairman, Alrick Daniel told reporters.

Daniel, who is also General Secretary of the Antigua Trades and Labour Union (ATLU), also called on non-governmental organisations to support domestic workers who are considered invisible employment and un-meaningful work,

CDWN’s concerns also include the need for domestic workers to benefit from social security (National Insurance Scheme) protection and be entitled to and paid severance if their services are terminated as in the case of nannies who are sent home after children would have grown up. Officials said domestic workers are also vulnerable to sexual harassment, verbal abuse, wrongful dismissal, working overtime without pay, excessive workload and poor occupational safety and health.

Representatives of the regional body also hope that Guyana will set the pace for the rest of the Caribbean in ratifying the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers. They hope to this week meet with Labour Minister Dr. Nankishore Gopaul who two months ago publicly committed that Guyana would ratify the convention though he has not given a time frame.

“We hope that the minister would move forward in being the first to ratify convention 189. It will be a pillar to all of us and would make the first step so that other countries could follow,” said President of the Jamaica Household Workers Union and CDWN’s Co-convenor, Shirley Pryce.

Secretary of Red Thread, a Guyanese women’s rights organisation, Joycelyn Bacchus said ratification of the convention would “stop that kind of eye-pass (disrespect)” and encourage domestic workers to agitate for their rights. “We know for sure that they eyepass will not stop immediately but at least we will have a weapon to use when it’s happening,” she added.

Formed in 2011, CDWN has affiliates in Guyana, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and St. Lucia, and Antigua and Barbuda.

General Secretary of Trinidad and Tobago’s National Union of Domestic Employees (NUDE), Ida Le Blanc called for a clear definition of a domestic worker as part of a package of protective measures. “Because they don’t have a clear definition of who is a domestic worker, it leaves the domestic worker open to a lot of exploitation,” she said.

CDWN wants a Caricom Declaration on the protection of domestic workers, even as the member-nations are lagging behind in implementing the free movement of that category of workers throughout the Single Market. “Even though they say we can move freely, they haven’t put anything in place to ensure that domestic workers can move freely,” said Le Blanc. Jamaica has begun taking steps to train domestic workers and their certificates classified as a Caribbean Vocational Qualification (CVQ) which would make holders eligible for free movement.

Le Blanc also called for the Caribbean to simultaneously recognize Trinidad and Tobago’s Clothil Walcott on September 7 because she founded NUDE and put the plight of domestic workers in the spotlight. “She is an icon for the Caribbean because she was not only concerned about domestic workers in Trinidad and Tobago but she was concerned about domestic workers throughout the Caribbean, she wanted protection for these workers,” said Le Blanc.