Domestics get a break

Domestics get a break

Without them, many working women could not possibly juggle between their family obligations and professional demands. Yet, domestic workers' contributions to the advancement of women's development in Thailand have never been recognised. Worse, as a result of a feudalistic legacy, many live-in maids still suffer abusive or slave-like work conditions with around-the-clock duties, low pay, little rest, and no welfare protection.

Thanks to the latest policy move at the Labour Ministry, this is about to change.

According to the new ministerial regulations, it's no longer legally possible to make domestic workers work seven days a week or 365 days a year without weekly days off or holidays _ as is often the case in many local households.

Under the new regulations, it is now legally mandatory to give domestic workers at least one day off each week. They are also entitled to overtime pay on holidays when they are asked to work on their weekly day off, traditional holidays, or annual leave. Like their peers in the formal workforce, domestic workers are entitled to 13 traditional holidays a year. Employers are also required to pay their wages during sick leave and provide payment for work termination.

True, many households already give their domestic help with decent salaries, overtime pay and a weekly day off. But this treatment is up to individual employers, which may come out of empathy or a response to the market forces of supply and demand given the severe shortage of domestic workers. When the new regulations become effective after being endorsed by a royal decree, the work conditions of domestic workers will no longer depend on employers' niceties. Decent work conditions will become their legal right.

The Labour Ministry must also be commended for making it clear that migrant domestic workers are equally covered by the new ministerial regulations. According to Homenet, a non-government organisation working for the legal rights of home-based workers, up to 90% of domestic workers are migrants.

Despite better labour protection, much more work still needs to be done to ensure enforcement of the new regulations, as well as to improve their rights which still lag behind those of workers in the formal sector.

To start with, the new ministerial regulations do not specify domestic workers' work hours which should not exceed eight hours a day or 48 hours each week. Nor do they include 90-day maternity leave, a prohibition against work termination due to pregnancy, and late-night work for pregnant workers. They are not protected by the minimum wage law either.

Despite the need for improvement, the authorities now have a primary responsibility to enforce the new ministerial regulations. Apart from making domestic workers' legal rights public knowledge, employers who breach the law must be punished. Given domestic workers' weak bargaining power, the authorities and human rights groups must assist with compensation in court cases to send a strong message to employers.

Domestic workers' plight is women's plight because it's rooted in the belief that women's household work has no economic value. As long as this cultural belief remains intact, working women will continue to struggle with a double workload at home and at work while domestic help, despite some legal improvements, will remain at the lowest rung of the work hierarchy.

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