Domestic Workers Sow a New Global Movement

Source: Michelle Chen, In These Times, Working in These Times blog, April 15, 2013

In Argentina and Brazil, a sector of workers that has long labored invisibly is moving out of the shadows and gaining legal protections. Their counterparts in Jamaica and Uruguay are sparking a new political consciousness from the friction between tradition and globalization. Around the world, private homes are becoming labor’s latest battleground as domestic workers stake out their rights….

…The pushback against domestic workers underscores the need for a two-front approach that combines ground-level agitation and legislative change. Empowerment of workers within the home, coupled with tighter regulation of household labor practices by the state, can dismantle the paternalism that has historically kept domestic workers from establishing equal labor rights.

Even a relatively rich country with established labor laws can be deeply regressive in the way it treats “the help.” The United States has long exempted many types of domestic workers from protections like health and safety regulations or maternity leave. There has been some progress on the state level, with the enactment of New York’s Domestic Workers Bill of Rights a few years ago and similar legislation pending in California. But enforcement of the New York bill remains a challenge, as many workers don’t have the resources or legal savvy to invoke their new protections. And without a concrete collective-bargaining system, a one-woman workforce isolated in a private home remains vulnerable to maltreatment and exploitation….