Respect domestic workers' rights

Respect domestic workers' rights

Noi is a Thai woman who has been a domestic helper for more than 20 years. Her job does not limit her to keeping the house tidy, it also involves taking an elderly woman for check-ups at a hospital, shopping, and managing all miscellaneous things concerning the woman's affairs. It is difficult to imagine how she would live without Noi.

Domestic workers like Noi have been an important part of many families in Thailand for decades. Without them, many would not be able to enter the workforce, generate income, and contribute to the national economy, as there would be no one to take care of family members like their elderly parents and small children.

To mark International Domestic Workers Day on June 16, here are a few facts about domestic workers in Thailand.

Fact #1: Domestic workers, regardless of their nationality, have legal rights under the Ministerial Regulation 2012 No. 14. They are entitled to at least one rest day per week and 13 paid holidays per year (including Labour Day). Domestic workers who have worked consecutively for a year are entitled to six paid leave days, and up to 30 days of paid sick leave per year. They must receive wages at least once a month in baht, and be paid extra when working on a holiday.

The law also prohibits hiring any person younger than 15 years old as a domestic worker. Requesting or accepting a bond, as well as deducting wages from a domestic worker is also illegal.

In some respects Thai legislation has become more closely aligned with the requirements of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention No.189 (Domestic Workers Convention). However, domestic workers are not enjoying the same rights as ordinary workers. They are not entitled to working-hour limitations, overtime compensation, maternity leave, and a minimum wage.

Fact#2: We do not know how many domestic workers there are in Thailand. The Foreign Worker Administration Office, Ministry of Labour has records of migrant domestic workers, who numbered around 50,000 as of February this year.

The majority of them are women from Myanmar. The actual number is, however, expected to be much higher. This is because there are migrant workers who did not go through official channels, as well as Thais like Noi who work as domestic workers.

Fact#3: Domestic workers are vulnerable to mistreatment and abuse. Even though domestic workers are protected under the law, monitoring and enforcing the law in households are almost impossible. It has been argued that only about 20% of employers actually comply with the regulations.

As domestic workers are not registered and employers have no duty to report that they have hired domestic workers at home, this makes it almost impossible for the government to locate domestic workers in Thailand unless a violation happens and is reported.

Fact #4: Many domestic workers still lack social protection. If they have employers, they should ideally be insured under Section 33 of the 1990 Social Security Act.

The social security benefits under Section 33 include nine main benefits for employees, namely, old age, disability, survivors (payments made to surviving spouses or eligible children of deceased workers), medical care, sickness, maternity, unemployment, work-related injuries and child allowance.

Under Section 33, it is compulsory for employers of domestic workers to contribute to these social security benefits.

Unfortunately, Section 33 covers a work place which hires more than one employee and so domestic work is usually excluded.

Domestic workers still have an option to insure themselves under Section 40, which is offered to informal workers. Benefits under this section include compensation for non-work related illnesses and injuries, disability and death depending on their monthly contribution towards the Social Security Fund.

It is therefore not surprising that many domestic workers do not want to contribute to this voluntary scheme.

Domestic workers may have different job titles such as helpers, nannies, maids, or care-takers. Whatever they are called, they have rights and protection under existing Thai law.

If you employ domestic helpers, it is time to apply these rights to them -- those who help you prepare your dinner; who look after your children while you are at work; who take care of your ailing parents; who do what you ask them to do no matter what hour of the day it is.

Lastly, help protect them from mistreatment and abuse. Should you learn or witness an employer violating any of domestic workers' rights, help them submit a complaint online

Natthanicha Lephilibert is a Safe and Fair (SAF) National Project Coordinator for Thailand, ILO. SAF is part of the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative to eliminate violence against women and girls, with the overriding objective of ensuring that labour migration Asean is safe and fair. Boonwara Sumano Chenphuengpawn, PhD, is Research Fellow at the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI). Policy analyses from the TDRI appear in the Bangkok Post on alternate Wednesdays.

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