New Zealand failure to ratify ILO domestic workers convention “shameful”

A leading academic has condemned New Zealand’s failure to ratify a proposed International Labour Organisation Convention protecting the rights of domestic workers. Professor Marilyn Waring from the Institute of Public Policy at New Zealand’s Auckland University of Technology apologised to a meeting of Commonwealth Women’s Affairs Minister for the decision. Here’s the interview on Radio Australia (Windows media).

Presenter: Geraldine Coutts
Speaker: Professor Marilyn Waring from the Institute of Public Policy at New Zealand’s Auckland University of Technology

WARING: I’m in a region where for more than 30 years women fought very strongly just for wages for housework, there has been from slavery onwards extraordinary exploitation of women’s domestic work, both in the Caribbean and exploitation of Caribbean women workers, in particular in North America. And it’s a way of really honouring that tradition of all the work that these women have done. I’m also still staggered by finding myself a resident in a country voting alongside Iran and Saudi Arabia, Kuwait against fundamental human rights for domestic workers. And my very serious academic work for a significant period of time has been around issues of informal and unpaid work and human rights.

COUTTS: Well what explanation can there be then for New Zealand doing that?

WARING: Well I think what they would probably say is they don’t have any legislation currently that protects the human rights of domestic workers. Domestic workers are expressly written out of New Zealand’s Human Rights Act, however because the convention won’t be up until somewhere through next year, there’s no excuse, they could easily have legislated an amendment to that act in the time between now and when the convention will be promulgated.

COUTTS: Well what prohibits them from signing on anyway and getting the legislation to back it up?

WARING: Usually New Zealand, Australia, Canada don’t do it like that, they normally wait until they have legislation in line. However that’s only when they’re actually going to ratify the convention and so they don’t ratify until they’ve got stuff in line. But to vote against it at this point is unbelievable, just takes my breath away. So I’ve issued an apology to the members of the Commonwealth here and pointed out to them that the men and women of New Zealand are ashamed and saddened and outraged really by this particular vote by our government.

COUTTS: Now part of the title for this meeting is economic crisis, now given what you’ve already said about women’s work in especially the Pacific rural areas that you’ve touched on and in New Zealand, what impact is the economic crisis having? What’s the comparison to be made?

WARING: Well I think some of the important things say for more developed countries, is that we’re seeing an increase in non-standard work hours. And that is associated with higher levels of stress and greater depressive symptoms, Canadian work that shows you have lower reported health and lower life satisfaction. And there’s also with the recession, not that, Australia is out of it of course, but most everybody else is still suffering, we have an increase in precarious work. Whenever you introduce a ceiling on public service recruitment or any kind of retraction in work, then precarious work expands and precarious work has limited social benefits and job insecurity, low wages, usually short tenure. So these positions overwhelmingly are filled by women and migrants and immigrant minorities. And again, you have high levels of stress, there’s a lot of substance abuse in those populations, and none of those rights of workers rights, no paid sick leave, no pension or fringe benefits, very little access to training, and all of those things are magnified in the current crisis in public debt. Because this began as a banking crisis and of course governments bailed out the banking sector and bailed out a whole lot of other various corporate interests and because it’s doing that it’s become a public debt crisis. And now we all have to pay.

COUTTS: Well how do you get a meeting of the minds? For instance there’s a ceiling or a freeze on public service recruitment, which always increases the number of positions in precarious work that you’re talking about. But we see the IMF for instance saying the billion dollar loan to Fiji and one of the conditions is if you cut your public service. So how do you get the bankers and the public service and the governments together?

WARING: Well at that point you’re into ideological conflict. It’s been very interesting for example to think back to what 15 months ago when there was a one-off payment in Australia to every family, which was a kind of expansionary fiscal or monetary stimulus and the timing was quite spectacular I thought, before the first term of the school year. So you can approach it in that way or you can do the neo-liberal austerity response, which is the way in which Canada and New Zealand and the UK are going and obviously what the IMF is imposing on Fiji. But that all comes from the same text books that brought us the crisis in the first place.

COUTTS: What’s your solution?

WARING: Well I’m always very interested in looking beyond just measuring in terms of growth and GDP. One of the things that I’ve got to address the conference on is social protection in the Pacific and social protection in the Pacific for example is far more about women’s access to land rights whether through the courts, where often they’re losing out in breach of culture for example, widows have a definitely hard time with the customary tenure system in the Pacific. And then also looking at environmental damage, I mean we’ve got Kiribati, Tuvalu, you talk about social protection, we’ve got people whose countries are disappearing on us. We’ve got subsistence economies where logging for example takes away not just the clich�d women’s access to food, it takes away your transportation, canoes, it takes away your building and construction, it takes away the local chemist shop. We’ve got trawlers that are fishing way beyond quota through the Pacific and so again beginning to really impact on the subsistence livelihoods and protein of people. All of these things are about social protection, and similarly the work that’s going on throughout the Pacific out at the violence surveys in Samoa, Solomon Islands, Kiribati for example, and you can’t be a very productive worker in the subsistence and formal or informal sector if you’re constantly beating up. So I’m trying to introduce thoughts beyond simple measurement in dollar terms about what social protection means, and certainly to talk about taking on board qualitative and quantitative indicators when we’re talking about well being and trying to recover. Simply pursuing the old Bretton Woods, which was only introduced heavens in the 1940s, it’s not like it came in tablets of stone, it’s letting us down, and we’ve got to be looking for alternatives that’s beyond the mono-dimensional kind of pursuit of just GDP figures and growth figures.

COUTTS: Well part of the title for this conference in Barbados, the Commonwealth title is Women as Agents of Transformation. How on earth can women be agents of transformation given all that we’ve discussed this morning, lacking in ideology with those who make the decisions, so how can they be agents of transformation?

WARING: Well they’re agents of transformation usually in the community and at household level. There’s a difference between whether or not you’re thinking top down and thinking you’ve got the answer like the IMF and you’re busy going to impose it on anybody. Or you’re looking at the genuine economies of scale that women know how to make every day in their lives. There’s some very, very good papers around leadership roles and conflict transformation and peace building. The Bougainville settlements which involved women of course is one of the case studies here. The engagement of women in Sierra Leone, the changes in political representation of women that have come frequently out of women’s engagement in constitutional talks after major civil wars. Well South Africa after apartheid and Uganda after the civil war, there are large numbers of countries I’m sitting here within the Bahamas who have significantly larger percentages of women in parliament than Australia and New Zealand.


3 Responses to “New Zealand failure to ratify ILO domestic workers convention “shameful””

  1. 1 David Tajgman June 22, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    A bit of a clarification.
    There is not yet a Convention for New Zealand to ratify.
    There will be one more discussion, at the International Labour Conference in 2011, at which, if all goes as planned, a Convention and a Recommendation on Domestic Work will be adopted by the International Labour Conference. (As Waring herself notes “…the convention won’t be up until somewhere through next year,…”). At that time the government of New Zealand will have the opportunity to decide to ratify on not.
    It is interesting — and this is what Waring is talking about — that the New Zealand government voted in Committee against an amendment to the domestic workers committee report (1st discussion, remember) that would have moved standard setting toward a Recommendation ONLY. See Para. 107 and 110 of Provision Record No. 12. The proposed amendment did not receive sufficient votes. The Committee Report was adopted unanimously in the ILC plenary (PR. 19, page 43), the New Zealand government did not make a statement.

  2. 3 Fellow Man June 23, 2010 at 4:48 pm

    The Earth belongs to every Man and Woman equally – period!

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