Migrant Women Domestic Workers Deserve Protection Amidst the COVID -19) Pandemic

Daisy Nabasitu

Public Prosecutor, Uganda


Women migrant workers protest. Courtesy, ICFUAE.ORG.UK

As the world responds to the global shock of the COVID-19 pandemic, all economic sectors have adversely been impacted. This includes “the unregulated workplace” of the domestic workers, which mainly employs women. While women greatly contribute to development of the economy, little has been done to protect the female domestic workers, most of whom are migrants. They take care of their employer’s home while they go to perform their duties elsewhere. Currently, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced most employers to work remotely at home - the workplace of women domestic workers. Just like other employers have been affected, migrant women domestic workers around the world are no exception.

These women workers are placed at the frontline of the battle of this pandemic through the provision of housekeeping, cleaning services, and care services for the sick, elderly, children, and people with disabilities, all of whom are very vulnerable to the virus and therefore must meet the sanitation demands. Despite the indispensable services they provide, women domestic workers are discriminated against, exposed to violence and their vulnerability has increased due to the poor working conditions in which they find themselves which requires immediate attention and protection.

As a containment measure to the pandemic, several business activities have been closed, but homes have not closed and it is business as usual. Children and parents have all been sent home and advised to isolate themselves. Policies such as social distancing and isolation are recommended. These policies negatively affect female domestic workers, thereby exacerbating the discriminatory tendencies. The pandemic has had significant economic impacts on domestic workers worldwide including extended working hours, loss of jobs, and failure to return to their home countries due to border closures, multiple labor violations such as unpaid leave, absence of sick leave, non-payment or low payment of wages, effects of school closures, early termination of contracts, limited access to health care, risk of losing their jobs and loss of working hours, among others. Despite the risks they are exposed to, women domestic workers continue working even when their health is in danger.

Kenya migrant workers receive training. Photograph- Joost Bastmeijer/The Guardian

All employees have resorted to working from home and therefore domestic worker’s safety remains a cause of concern. Migrant domestic workers face unique challenges during the pandemic. Both live-in and live-out migrant women domestic worker’s employability and life is at stake and calls for attention of the human rights community. Live-out migrant women domestic workers work in several homes, interact with many people, and sometimes rely on public transport to travel to and from work, putting them at a high risk of contracting the virus. In some instances, their residence contracts have expired and have no means of payment. The questions to address are how safe is the home as a workplace, and how are domestic workers managing the crisis? While governments are catering for other employees, domestic workers too require protection and continued advocacy for their rights.

During this pandemic, it is important to pay attention to domestic workers’ labor and other related rights. While at their workplace, women domestic workers should be able to easily access timely, consistent, and accurate information about the main health problems currently pertaining to the virus at this critical time. This applies to situations where they are denied telephone communication and the languages in which such important information is distributed cannot be understood by them. For those wishing to return to their countries after layoffs,