International Capacity Building Workshop on Migrant Domestic Workers

From the 19th to the 21st April 2016, Leaders from East African domestic worker unions assembled in Tanzania to demand their governments do more to safeguard the rights of migrant domestic workers going to the Gulf Countries.

Photo: FES/Benjamin Schwab

Photo: FES/Benjamin Schwab

Photo: FES/Benjamin Schwab

The unions criticized East African embassies, especially those in the Gulf, for failing to address cases of their citizens’ abuses. There are several reasons for their ineffectiveness, including an unwillingness to antagonize their hosts, and political correctness, said Vicky Kanyoka,  the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF)’s Regional Coordinator for  Africa.


“Embassies also lacked facilities like a working shelter to accommodate their citizens who were victims of abuse,” she said.


A three-day capacity building workshop in Dar es Salaam, organized by the IDWF in conjunction with the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) explored the extreme abusing facing workers in the Gulf. The workshop brought together leaders of domestic workers unions, rights activists and policymakers from Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, South Africa and Tanzania.

Participants identified other challenges facing East African workers, including lack of access to key data, lack of cooperation between origin and destination countries, unscrupulous recruitment practices and insufficient pre- departure training for prospective migrants. 

In the past few years, East African countries have reported an increase in number of migrants coming to the Gulf, and consequently, increases in cases of abuse. In response, several countries have banned workers from migrating to the region.

In January of 2016, Uganda slapped a ban on recruitment of domestic workers to Saudi Arabia following reports of severe abuse of its citizens. In 2014, Kenya also attempted a temporary ban on domestic workers to Saudi Arabia.

The leaders also called on East African and Gulf countries to ratify International Labour Convention 189 of 2011 to improve the conditions of domestic workers including migrants. The convention addresses minimum labour standards for domestic workers rights and decent working conditions. 


“This convention is the first of its kind to address issues related to the poor conditions of domestic workers,” said Judica Amri Lawson, former ILO deputy regional director for Africa. “But so far, not a single East African country has ratified the Convention.” 


IDWF president Myrtle Witbooi said it was disheartening that in the whole of Africa, only two countries, South Africa and Mauritius, had ratified the convention on domestic workers - despite the fact that all countries had domestic workers, and are now actively sending citizens to work abroad as domestic workers. According to the International Labour Office (ILO), 84% of the estimated 53 million domestic workers globally are women. Their work consists of cleaning, cooking, and taking care of children and the elderly in private households.


“However, domestic work is often characterized by unsafe and abusive working conditions, low (or no) wages, extremely long hours, no rest days or holidays, and a lack of benefits and social protection,” said Elizabeth Tang the IDWF General Secretary. “These poor conditions are further compounded for migrant domestic workers and child domestic workers due to particular vulnerabilities inherent to those sub-sectors.”



Domestic Workers and trade union leaders from Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Hong Kong, The Philippines, and South Africa came together at FES-Tanzania Office to discuss the situation of African migrant domestic workers in the Middle East and plan further action.


Yasin Kakande, a Ugandan journalist and author of the books "The Ambitious Struggle: An African Journalist's Journey of Hope and Identity in a Land of Migrants" and "Slave States" presents his work to the workshop participants. Kakande himself has lived for over a decade in the Gulf States and has done research and advocacy work for the rights of African domestic workers in the Middle East.


IDWF Secretary General, Elizabeth Tang (Hong Kong), advocates for the ratification of the ILO Convention 189 to secure the rights of domestic workers worldwide.

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