Labour rights as human rights – domestic workers in the UK and Latin America
Domestic workers are a vulnerable section of the workforce, susceptible to serious mistreatment given the devaluation and isolated nature of their work and their frequent exclusion from general labour laws. They are mainly women, and are disproportionately from ethnic minorities and / or international migrants. The project applies a ‘labour rights as human rights’ approach, which views the fields of labour rights and human rights as mutually compatible and reinforcing, to the position of domestic workers. It focuses on Latin America, where a number of countries have recently passed legislation to improve the rights of domestic workers, as well as the UK where many key labour protections do not apply to domestic workers.
The project seeks to reconcile tensions between the labour and human rights fields by challenging an individualistic and restraints-based view of human rights (i.e. one focusing solely on restraining the state from taking actions), drawing on the concept of the ‘positive obligation’ which places a duty on the state to facilitate rights against third parties. One benefit of a labour rights as human rights approach is shown by applying the human right to a private and family life to conditions of domestic workers. For example, working time is particularly difficult to regulate for this sector, but emphasising the need for the worker to be able to develop relationships outside of work is a valuable way to contest the prevailing narrative. The project engages with feminist literature on these issues, noting that many difficulties in stem from to the conflation of domestic work with work traditionally performed by women for free in the family.
The project draws on empirical as well as library-based research. The candidate is currently working as a volunteer researcher with a London charity supporting migrant domestic workers, and intends to carry out further field work in either Chile or Argentina during the second year, entailing interviews with domestic workers and / or trade union and civil society organisations representing them.