Check Against Delivery

At the 100th International Labour Convention of the ILO in June 2011, Irish officials participated in the working group which led to the adoption of the ILO Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers (ILO Convention No.189).   This new International labour standard aimed at ensuring Decent Work for Domestic Workers is very welcome.

The question of ratification by Ireland of this - or indeed any - international convention must be considered from the perspective of any amendments that may be required to existing domestic legislation.  Officials in the Department of my colleague, Minister Bruton, are currently engaged in this work.  When this work is complete, the Government will be in a position to signal their intentions regarding ratification of the Convention on Domestic Work.

In the interim, it is worth noting that the at present the full suite of Irish employment rights legislation, including that of redress for violations of their employment rights, apply to domestic workers in the same way as they apply to other categories of employees in Ireland.

In addition, a voluntary Code of Practice for Persons Employed in Other People’s Homes (S.I 239 of 2007) was developed under the Industrial Relations Act 1990, in consultation with the Social Partners.  The Code sets out certain employment rights and practices for persons employed in other people’s homes and encourages good practice and compliance with the law in such employment situations.  In any proceedings before a court, or a workplace relations dispute resolution body, this Code of Practice is admissible in evidence and any provision of the Code which appears to the Court, body or officer concerned to be relevant to any question arising in the proceedings shall be taken into account in determining that question. Certain provisions of Convention 189 are already provided for in this Statutory Code of Practice (e.g. prohibition on an employer keeping a domestic worker’s travel documents).

It is also worth noting that the National Employment Rights Authority, NERA, has carried out a programme of inspections involving domestic workers, as well as continuing to respond to any complaints it receives from domestic workers.

Domestic work is something that is regarded as problematic in the immigration system and is not facilitated, precisely for the reasons that it is often low paid and the worker could find themselves in a vulnerable position.  Domestic work would no longer qualify for an employment permit.  The only, limited, exception relates to employment in diplomatic households and work is currently underway between the relevant Government Departments to develop new procedures in this area to assist employees and provide guidance for embassies.  

A very clear message that should be sent is one of zero tolerance for human trafficking for labour purposes.  Suspected cases should always be reported to the authorities either directly or with the assistance of one of the Non Governmental Organisations active in this area.  There are now very well developed procedures in place for dealing with suspected trafficking cases and a great deal of work, started by the previous Government and carried on by this one, has been done in what is an extremely important and sensitive area of human rights and law enforcement.

Of course abuse of workers rights does not have to reach the level of trafficking for it to be wrong and it may well be the case that a migrant worker is exploited by an unscrupulous employer through excessive hours of work or insufficient pay.  The worker is clearly more vulnerable if they are illegal and the employer threatens them with deportation if they leave or complain of their treatment.  While the Government cannot obviously stand over illegal migration or employment, persons in a vulnerable position should come forward and talk to the immigration authorities.  Cases are dealt with on their merits and in recent years several hundred cases of people who became undocumented through no fault of their own have been addressed sympathetically by the immigration authorities.