Manila: The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has called on nine member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to ratify a convention that protects domestic workers, adding the Philippines should be a model because it has been ASEAN’s only member country that has ratified the 2011 convention.

“If nine other ASEAN member countries ratify the Convention on Domestic Workers (C 189), it will mean labour protection for six million or 61 per cent of 10 million domestic workers in Southeast Asia and the Pacific,” Tomoko Nishimoto, ILO assistant director general, said.

His call centred on ASEAN’s Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

“It is time for [ASEAN] employers not to treat domestic workers as servants as they are entitled to labour rights as other workers,” cautioned Nishimoto. The six million unprotected labour force “represents 20 per cent of all migrant workers in ASEAN. Majority of them are women”, he added.

Of the remaining 39 per cent supposedly protected domestic workers, ”only 3 per cent of them have real labour protection similarly enjoyed by other workers,” Nishimoto said.

Noting the dismal condition of ASEAN domestic workers, Nishimoto said, “Overseas domestic workers in ASEAN work an average of 14 hours a day; only 40 per cent have one day off a week.”

Migrant domestic workers are exploited and abused because they are dependent on recruiters and employers; they work in isolation; and lack social networks, he explained.

Policies for labour protection should be shaped now. Demand for domestic workers will rise in ASEAN because of rise in the region’s ageing population, declining fertility and population growth rates, and increasing participation of women in the labour force, predicted Nishimoto.

He was happy that ASEAN labour ministers, workers, employers and representatives of 10 ASEAN countries attended a forum entitled, ‘Toward Achieving Decent Work for Domestic Workers in ASEAN’, on October 25, to help shape labour policies in the region, and to achieve decent work for ASEAN domestic workers.

It was held ahead of the ASEAN leaders’ summit in Manila from November 10 to 14.

ILO’s Convention on Domestic Workers, also known as Convention concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers, states that domestic workers should have a minimum age and must be protected by written contracts of employment stating minimum wage salary, job description, condition of employment, daily rest, and once a week leave. They are entitled to choose the place where to live and spend their day off, and protection from violence. The contract of employment for overseas domestic helpers must be signed before their immigration.

Signed in Geneva in 2011, the ILO Convention was adopted in 2013 with 396 tripartite votes (from government, employers, and workers). It entered into force in 2013, and ratified by 23 countries as of October 2016.