COVID-19 shows why domestic workers need same rights and protection as others

Liliam Marrero, General Secretary of UNFETRAH-FENAMUTRA

Personally, COVID-19 has impacted me very badly. I have been a domestic worker and care-giver all my life. For more than seven years I have taken care of a 95-year-old woman in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. But now I am in quarantine at my house with no salary. My employer terminated me without payment because she can’t pay me.

I know that the impact of COVID-19 on domestic workers in the Dominican Republic has been pretty traumatic.

From the moment I wake up I listen to the messages from our members – their needs, pains and suffering. We communicate with our members through our WhatsApp groups. As a union leader my day-to-day workload has tripled because the needs and demands from members have increased. Our responsibilities towards them have expanded to support their health conditions and basic needs, like food and care. We have mobilized support from other organizations and churches. I have arranged for the union’s Executive Committee members to deliver food, soap, hand sanitizer and toothpaste for the kids, to a neighbourhood where many domestic workers live.

My first fear is for those who might be infected but don’t have the possibility to get a medical test. The COVID-19 test is expensive, more than $DR 5,000 (USD$86). That is roughly half the monthly salary of a domestic worker here. While domestic workers were eventually allowed to receive some income support through a government programme called “Quedate en casa”, my union estimates that only 40 per cent of domestic workers have received it. Hence, my fear is that domestic workers will be left on their own.

Papuan domestic worker © A. Mirza / ILO

A second fear is about the financial challenges the domestic workers’ families and kids are facing. I get phone calls every day from our members telling me that they don’t have enough food. On top of this they cannot go out to work or look for a new job, since many employers do not want domestic workers to come into their houses.

These worries are growing every day because soon they will have neither food nor savings.

While my union work is hard, our commitment now is stronger. We cannot let our members become sick with COVID-19 because most likely they will not be diagnosed and receive medical treatment. Our strategy is prevention and information on how to take care of ourselves.

We also must continue to advocate for social protection. We were doing such great work to get social protection for our sector and starting to see results, but now all that has stopped.

Here in Dominican Republic, the government has ratified ILO Convention 189 on decent work for domestic workers. But COVID-19 has exposed the needs our sector has. To make sure domestic workers never face this situation again, we need laws that will implement the rights and protections that Convention No. 189 grants us. We want to be given the labour rights and protections that other workers have.

The trade union Union Nacional FENAMUTRA de Trabajadoras del Hogar, represents 1,200 domestic workers in the Dominican Republic, including Haitian migrant domestic workers.

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