Southeast Asia Reminded That Domestic Workers Have Rights

If you’re a nanny, housekeeper, driver, or other domestic worker in Southeast Asia, you have rights. And the International Labor Organization (ILO) wants to tell you all about them with their new booklet called “Domestic Work, Decent Work.” They’ve published it in seven languages, and are in the process of distributing it to labor rights organizations across the region. And this information can’t come too soon for the hundreds of thousands of domestic workers in Southeast Asia, especially those who are exploited, abused, or modern-day slaves.

In Thailand alone, there are over 120,000 domestic workers. However, an exact count of domestic workers in the country and across Southeast Asia is incredibly hard to come by, since so many of them are undocumented immigrants or unregistered minors. The domestic work industry is highly unregulated, especially in Southeast Asia, which means that workers are incredibly vulnerable to exploitation by employers.

This exploitation can range from unfair wages or poor treatment to trafficking,sexual abuse, and physical violence. And while we usually think of domestic workers as maids and nannies, wealthy households in Southeast Asia may also employ drivers, gardeners, butlers, and personal security guards or body guards. These latter occupations tend to be male dominated, while the childcare, cooking, and cleaning occupations tend to be female dominated. Regardless of gender, however, the high proportion of children and undocumented migrants who work in domestic service makes this population highly vulnerable to human trafficking.

The goal of the ILO booklet is to make sure people working in these industries know what rights they have and understand what is a fair wage, fair treatment, discrimination, and other challenging concepts that may vary greatly from country to country. Armed with the knowledge of their rights, domestic workers in exploitative situations may be able to seek help.

While this sort of public education campaign can be very effective, there is a strong possibility that these documents may not be accessible to trafficked domestic workers. Trafficked workers may have even less freedom of motion than their counterparts, making it harder to get them educational materials. They may also be illiterate, children, or otherwise unable to understand the information presented. Some trafficking victims have full knowledge of their rights, but remain in their situation of slavery because of threats made to themselves or family members or other fears. Such a booklet will do little to help people in those situations, which is why it is important to have a multi-pronged approach to fighting human trafficking.

ILO has created an important tool with which to reduce trafficking of domestic workers in Southeast Asia and help them realize their rights. But it’s important too to understand that tools like these would be just one of many in a tool box, which includes government regulation, community-based services, law enforcement identification of victims, prosecution of traffickers, and strong anti-trafficking laws.

Photo credit: unusualimages



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