Barbados: Commonwealth Women's Affairs Ministers' Meeting
Statement on The Economic Crisis, Informal Work and Social Protection
Dr Marilyn Waring, June 8 2010
An apology has been offered to the women of the Commonwealth for New Zealand's vote against the proposed ILO Convention on fundamental human rights for domestic workers. Marilyn Waring, former National MP and Professor of Public Policy told the conference:
I want to record my profound apologies to this conference, at which my country has chosen not to be represented, for their vote yesterday at the ILO meeting in Geneva, against the establishment of an international standard of fundamental rights for domestic workers. I want to assure you that the men and women of New Zealand are ashamed, saddened and outraged that the principles which we hold dear, and try to live by, have been abrogated by the government of New Zealand. Research estimates that there are at least 20,000 home based care workers alone in New Zealand, and thousands more who would be covered by this convention. The overwhelming majority of these workers, who are very poorly paid, will be Pacific Islands' women, and other migrant and ethnic women. I want you to know that these workers are also excluded from the anti discrimination provisions of the New Zealand Human Rights Act. Fortunately there were enough votes in favour of the ILO standard for it to proceed. I am hopeful that the WAMM communiqué will be able to urge all Commonwealth countries to adopt this when promulgated next year.
I am very wary of the consequences of non adoption of this convention. Australia and New Zealand both engage in schemes with Pacific workers for temporary employment visas for agricultural workers, for example, seasonal pruning, picking, and harvesting of produce. There's an irony in that while Pacific women are overwhelmingly the farmers and gardeners of the region, those on the scheme are overwhelmingly men. However, there's a World Bank proposal floating around for transmigrating Pacific women on the same sort of temporary visa to do the elder care in New Zealand and Australia, in a situation where pay and working conditions in both Australia and New Zealand are so poor it is difficult to attract and retain staff. One of New Zealand's responses to social protection in the public debt crisis has been to cut the hours of entitlements for that care. I would be most concerned for any further consideration of that idea without the human rights of those workers being thoroughly protected.
Professor Waring is one of the specialist presenters brought to the conference by the Commonwealth Secretariat, and spoke on the Economic Crisis, Informal Work and Social Protection Roundtable. Ministers from Bahamas, Bangladesh, Botswana, Canada, Grenada, India, Malaysia, The Maldives, Mauritius, St Lucia and Tanzania were in attendance, along with Delegation Heads from Australia, Bahamas, Brunei, Cameroon, Namibia, Nigeria, St Kitts, St Vincent, South Africa and Zambia.
Speaking later, Professor Waring said that this was "just the latest in a pattern of actions which showed New Zealand women, and the women of development partners, the level of consciousness and commitment the present government has towards women. To this disgrace in Geneva, you can add the halt in pay equity progress, internal Ministerial memos advising that rights and poverty based analyses were not welcome, the turn away from a focus on poverty in development policy, the lower numbers of women being appointed to Boards and Commissions, the reduction in the provision of child care and continuing education, and the regressive tax structure announced in the last budget.