People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 26

June 26, 2011




A New Convention on Domestic Workers Adopted


A K Padmanabhan


HELD at Geneva, headquarters of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), from May 31 to June 17, the hundredth session of the International Labour Conference concluded with the adoption of a new convention and recommendation on domestic workers.


It is to be noted that International Labour Organisation, formed in 1919, organises a tripartite conference every year to discuss the issues confronting the ‘workers world.’ The recent session, held in the 91st year of the organisation, was the one hundredth session of the ILC, as the ILO organises an additional convention every 10 years.


Apart from the usual presentation and general discussion on the director general’s report, this year’s agenda also included a discussion on the report on Equality at Work: The Continuing Challenge, on a report on labour administration and inspection, and on a third report on social security issues. In addition to this there was the usual agenda on the application of standards and the various complaints on the violations thereof.




The report of the ILO director general, Dr Juam Somavia, titled ‘A New Era of Social Justice,’ was the main document of the conference.


However, the theme of the ILO’s 100th session itself was ‘Building a Future with Decent Work.’ The report was a reflection of the present situation at the global level. This year being the hundredth session, Dr Somavia referred to the achievements of ILO and outlined the history of the international conferences ---starting from the first session in 1919. The report also contained an annexure on the situation of labour in the occupied territories of Palestine. (In the ILC, the delegation of Palestine was the only one in the category of liberation movements.) Tripartite delegations of governments, employers and workers from the 183 member countries of ILO and their advisers were participants in the ILC.


In his introductory remarks while presenting the report, Dr Somavia said: “As we celebrate our 100th session, our world of work is certainly in turmoil. We know that the dangers of a global depression seem behind us, but we have in front of us the bigger danger of further consolidating inefficient growth patterns and unfair globalisation rules at the root of the crisis, which have systematically increased inequality almost everywhere in the last 30 years. So slipping back into business as usual will lead us, sooner rather than later, into another crisis. This is not sustainable economically, socially, environmentally or politically.”


He also referred to some other points. These include the following:


1) The unacceptably high levels of youth unemployment everywhere, with the highest rates in Arab countries, sometimes seven or ten times higher than the rate for adults. Adults who decide policy are apparently indifferent to the next generation.


2) Stagnant levels of world investment in the real economy since the 1980s, rising in the emerging countries and dropping in the developed countries. But if you put it all together, on balance it has produced job-weak global growth worldwide for a long time now.


3) Small enterprises creation: we know that it is the main job machine of the world, but it is basically marginalised, not a priority in public and private decision making.


4) Indecent levels of income and wealth concentration, which most leaders decry but do little to change. Here is one figure to highlight this: 3,500 million people (3.5 billion) in the world together have the same income as only 61 million people have.


The director general went on to say, “it is no wonder that so many people are upset and angry. Too many feel squeezed --- including the middle classes --- between the immediate social impact of the crisis and those long term trends.”




On the whole, the report refers to the 30 years of globalisation as a period of decline in all aspects --- in employment, wages, job security etc. It also refers to the increase in disparities internationally and within countries. Dr Somavia said, “it is the result of the inefficient growth pattern that has incurred increased inequality throughout the world.”


He then went on to add, “Dominant economic policy basically discharged the founding values of ILO and built an unequal and unbalanced globalisation.” He also underlined that the “key drivers of globalisation are in a crisis of legitimacy.”


The director general clearly stated that “the crisis is the result of the conscious policies put in place since the early 1980s and these policies can be changed and must be changed.” But the problem with the ILO’s approach and the director general’s report becomes obvious when he goes on to state that, “the way ahead is not to roll back the opening of markets and stifle the potential gains from increased international trade and investment but integrating them into balanced solutions based on social justice.”


Thus the idea is that primacy of social justice must be accepted and the rules changed for a ‘just’ kind of globalisation. The director general described the present day world as “unjust” and then called for strengthening the basic values of ILO. The basic thrust of his report and of the ILC session is that of multilateral policy coherence with other international organisations and forums. Dr Somavia put more stress on these points of policy coherence with G20 countries and also with IMF, World Bank, WTO etc!


The DG’s report said that, “the IMF itself is active in rethinking macro economic policies. Questioning the consensus which prevailed until the crisis, that policy should be concerned with one target, inflation and one instrument interest rate. These are welcome developments which challenge the ILO to ensure that such rethinking places full employment, fairer income distribution, better wages, and strengthened social protection as policy priorities.” While the realities of the global capitalist crisis stare at everybody and the DG too is forced to note these realities, the report expected all those who are responsible for this crisis to change and work with policy coherence to put an end to the unjust world! The search is for a solution within the system, an end to the crisis which has engulfed the ‘workers world’ during the last 30 years! The realities are there but the way out being suggested by the report appears to be a mere wishful thinking as it refuses to accept the reality of a class based world.


Anyone who goes through the documents of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and that of ILO, will find that their approaches are same. It is this international trade union centre which actually decides upon the policy line for workers in the functioning of ILO.




The counter-point was well reflected in the intervention of general secretary of World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU), George Mavrikose, during the discussion on the DG’s report. Mavrikose said, “two or three years ago when the new crisis of the financial system emerged, we heard the analysis of several who tried to convince us that we had to put the blame for the crisis on some golden boys. Then the same analysts tried and are still trying to convince us that we must put the blame on the bad Greek workers, or on the bad Portuguese workers, to blame the Spanish people, the Italian citizens, the Irish, the Belgians, etc.


“All these analyses have one single goal: to hide the truth from the workers; to hide the fact that the crisis is a deep crisis of the capitalist system and multiplies the inter-imperialist and inter-capitalist rivalries with a view to controlling new markets, reorganising the borders and the controlling countries and wealth producing resources.”


General discussions on DG’s report and various other group meetings reflected the differences in the approaches of two different international federations! One of them is a reformist body that is face to face with the realities of the capitalist world and its ill consequences but is not prepared to adopt a class-based approach to the issues. The other, on the other hand, is motivated by a class-based approach and is being attacked by all kinds of reactionary forces, and discriminated even by the world body, i.e. the ILO. This issue of discrimination found an echo in various discussions including the interventions of the WFTU general secretary, the representative of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) and also of some other trade union organisations from various parts of the world.


We can only hope that the realities of the present day world will force every section of the society to take part in the globally ongoing discussions and identify the root cause of the crisis.




The ILO initiated in 2008a discussion on the issues relating to domestic workers, with a view to adopting a convention and recommendations, and the first stage was over in 2010. A draft was then finalised and sent for comments to various governments and others, and the final discussions took place in the same year. After very serious group-wise discussions, proposals, amendments and scrutiny in the joint committee in much prolonged sessions, a final document on the new convention and also on recommendations was finalised by the tripartite technical committee. The plenary session of the conference voted by a big majority for the convention on domestic workers along with the connected recommendations.


This document defines the domestic worker and also covers in detail their working conditions, job security, trade union right and other related issues. The approval of this convention (No 189) of the ILO saw real celebrations in the hall, and a feeling of a great satisfaction prevailed.


As many as 396 delegates voted for the Convention and 16 voted against, while 63 were recorded as abstaining. Those who voted against were employers category delegates, including those from India and the UK. The recommendations part got 434 votes in favour, with only 8 voting against them while 42 abstained.


Today there are an estimated 100 million people, mostly women, are working as domestic workers and a big number of them are migrants at the national or international level. In India the estimate varies from 4.75 to 6.4 millions, but the actual number may be much more. But the million dollar question is: How far the governments, in particular those who voted for the convention, will take follow-up measures at the national level? Evidently, an implementation of these recommendations in various countries will require serious struggles. Many of the core conventions, including those on trade union rights and collective bargaining, adopted 50 years ago or earlier, have not yet been ratified even in countries like India which is one of the founder members of the ILO.


This session also saw approval of the reports on issues like labour administration and social security. The issues on social securities, a very important issue in the present circumstances, will be discussed again in the 101st session so as to finalise a set of recommendations.




From India there were two governmental delegates and one each from the employers and the workers category. From the GoI side, the minister of labour and employment, Mallikarjuna Kharge, attended the conference. The delegate from the workers’ side belonged to the BMS which also sent an adviser. Besides, the INTUC sent two advisers  and the CITU, AITUC, HMS, AIUTUC and AICCTU sent one adviser each. The CITU was represented by its president, A K Padmanabhan. This year also, there as an election to the new governing board which has 28 governmental members and 14 each from the employers and the workers. INTUC vice president N M Adyanthaya was re-elected to the governing board from the workers’ side. For the first time, China’s worker representative was elected to the governing board.


The ILO is the only tripartite body connected with the United Nations, and has an important role to play. But its efficacy depends on whether this tripartite body is really able to involve various views reflected by various international and national organisations without any discrimination.


While the conference was debating the developments in some Arab countries, more and more strikes and struggles were reported from countries in Europe and other continents, declaring that “we will not pay for their crisis.” Let us salute those who are rallying in these struggles, and move ahead with our own united struggles.