On Saturday, September 13th, the central editorial piece in El Tiempo, Colombia’s largest circulation newspaper, was an analysis of the scarce labor rights protection that domestic workers have in the country. We express our gratitude to El Tiempo for its sensitivity to the subject, and for mentioning as a point of reference for their analysis our initiative, Hablemos de Empleadas Domésticas (Let’s Talk about Domestic Workers), as well as to the Escuela Nacional Sindical (National Trade Union School, an NGO dedicated to the promotion and visibility of labor rights) for its research titled Barriendo la Invisibilidad (Sweeping Away Invisibility).
The Dignity of Housemaids
Despite the efforts of the Ministry of Labor, which in the last few years has tried to promote appropriate recognition of the work done by housemaids, these women continue to be adrift in Colombian society.
Hard as it is to believe, today, well into the twenty-first century ― and even under the watchful eye of organizations intent on raising awareness about such a socially shameful reality ―, these women continue to be mistreated, very much as they were during the colonial period. It is still too common ― although undoubtedly not as frequent as before ― for them to be spoken about with demeaning names, to be treated like slaves, to be subjected to abuse and discrimination, and to be paid only a percentage of the minimum wage. According to data contained in a report titled “Sweeping Away Invisibility,” written by three important social organizations, 61% of maids earn between 150,000 and 300,000 Colombian pesos [roughly equivalent, respectively, to 75 and 150 dollars a month. T.N.].
The disgraceful things that take place behind closed doors are compounded by the humiliation to which they are subjected by so called “headhunters.” These things happen despite the Government’s recommendations, the relevant legislation, and the existence of an agreement with the ILO, ― number 189 ―, which demands decent working conditions for the people who perform these important tasks. According to studies undertaken by an independent initiative called “Let’s Talk about Maids,” for the great majority of the young people who arrive in the city from rural areas the only answer continues to be finding a place within a family. And since so many employers and employees are still unaware of the fact that there are laws that protect housemaids, we are far from getting to the point in which domestic work is as respected and recognized as any other type of labor.
Domestic worker “headhunters,” which ― according to a report published in this newspaper ―, put these women out to market as though they were offering a soul-less body, just something in any marketplace, are way behind in getting up to date with the current times. It is society as a whole, however, that needs to get used once and for all to respecting the employment rights gained through the years, to the duties that go with the motto of abiding by a “culture of lawfulness”, and to defending day after day the dignity of all Colombian workers.
El Tiempo newspaper, editorial, Colombia, September 13th, 2014
Translated from Spanish by Ana del Corral Londoño