Published: 03/09/2009

Domestic workers in Benin will finally be recognized as workers under the labour code. This news was brought to representatives of the Domestic and Restaurant Workers’ National Union, SYNEMB and its local from the Northern part of Benin, the Hotel and Domestic Workers Union of Borgou-Alibori, SEHM/BA at a meeting held at the national center CSA on Friday 28 August.

The meeting was organized by the IUF affiliate FESYNDER in order to give the African regional co-ordinator for domestic workers, Vicky Kanyoka, and the co-ordinator of the regional women’s project, Adwoa Sakyi, a possibility to exchange experiences with members of SYNEMB / SEHM/BA. Vicky Kanyoka also informed the union about the International Domestic Network and the preparation for the 2010 ILO discussion on a convention for domestic workers.

FESYNDER and the national center CSA have been actively supporting the Domestic Workers’ Union which was formed eight years ago and now have approximately 500 members. Due to the lack of coverage in the labour legislation and the harsh repression by many employers against those who join the union, it has been extremely difficult to recruit new members, particularly among women domestic workers. So far, the union therefore counts more males than female members. The male members are carrying out the same tasks as female workers, i.e. cooking, cleaning, ironing, looking after children, etc.

In November 2008, FESYNDER organized a training seminar for SYNEMB/SEHM/BA within the framework of the IUF regional women’s project. It focussed on domestic workers rights and responsibilities, health and safety issues and the forthcoming discussion on an ILO Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers. As a result of the seminar, a letter was addressed to the national center CSA stressing the lack of basic labour rights for domestic workers. The CSA consequently brought this up as an urgent matter in the national commission, which is revising the labour code.
On another note, at least two of the participants in the seminar were dismissed by their employers when they learnt about the meeting in the media.

The experiences that the representatives of the domestic workers union shared with the IUF delegation last Friday include: lack of job contracts, non recognition of multi-skills, non regulated working hours, non payment of overtime, no social security or medical insurance, no right to maternity leave, abusive dismissals, non respect of freedom of association, violence, sexual harassment, racism, not to speak of wages which in the best of cases is USD 3/day.

The news that one their request from the November seminar had been translated into the revision of the labour code was therefore met with great satisfaction. A few days earlier, the union and CSA sent in their answers on the ILO questionnaire which will be the basis for next year’s discussion on Decent Work for Domestic Workers at the International Labour Conference.