Gunawathi, 45, was born and raised in a village in Rakwana. She started working at the tender age of 17 years, finding employment as a domestic worker. It was then that she began to experience violence and harassment at the hands of those who exploited the power they held over her. She was yelled at with derogatory words and forced to work to the point of exhaustion. She was not given time to rest. When she fell sick, she was not given proper medical treatment. She worked under a state of constant fear and trepidation. Gunawathi felt she had no choice but to endure it all as she was the sole breadwinner in her family; she thus continued her work for the sake of her younger siblings, earning an income to provide for them.
Such stories are not uncommon. However, they are hardly publicized and escape the public’s attention.
Gunawathi is among the countless women who earn an income through domestic work; her story is all too relatable to those who are employed as domestic workers. They undergo immense suffering and mental agony, but feel powerless. They are particularly vulnerable as they work in isolation in the homes of their employers and lack the knowledge and means to seek help and escape their predicament.
It is our responsibility, as citizens of Sri Lanka, to listen to their voices and open our eyes to their reality. We should all strive to ensure a safe work environment for domestic workers. We need to acknowledge the value of the duties they perform and take steps to improve their working conditions.
To help guide employers of domestic workers on how to ensure that their homes are decent places of work, it is of utmost importance that the Government of Sri Lanka ratifies ILO Convention on Domestic Workers, 2011 (No.189), or C189.
Female domestic workers contribute greatly to society and the economy, enabling their employers to participate in the paid labour market. Sadly, they are not given due credit and their work is demeaned. They are judged on the basis of social perceptions of race and sex, low levels of literacy due to the lack of educational opportunities, and the view that their work is unskilled. As a result, their services are undervalued and they are denied the right to an adequate wage and decent working conditions.
Women comprise 76% of all domestic workers in Sri Lanka. It is of utmost importance to ensure their dignity and protect their rights.
The Centre for Working Women together with the National Workers Congress and other domestic workers unions has been striving to ensure decent work for domestic workers in Sri Lanka. They have implemented programmes at the national level to raise awareness on workers’ rights and prevent violence and harassment.
However, there is still a long way to go. We therefore urge everyone in Sri Lanka to do their part in promoting and protecting the rights of domestic workers.
In our journey to achieve decent work for domestic workers in Sri Lanka, a crucial step is the ratification of ILO Convention on Domestic Workers, 2011 (No. 189) and ILO Convention on Violence and Harassment, 2019 (No. 190) by the Government of Sri Lanka. Many other countries have already expressed their commitment to ensure decent work for domestic workers according to the guidelines and frameworks provided by these conventions.
The Centre for Working Women together with the National Workers Congress and other domestic workers unions strongly advocate for the ratification of C189 and C190 by the Government of Sri Lanka and call on all Sri Lankans to join our advocacy efforts