Tunis — Morocco's new law regulating work for domestic workers could help protect thousands of women and girls from exploitation and abuse, Human Rights Watch said today. The new law was adopted by the House of Representatives on July 26, 2016, and will go into effect one year after publication in the official gazette.
Human Rights Watch investigated conditions for child domestic workers - those under 18 - in Morocco in 2005 and 2012, finding that girls as young as 8 endured physical abuse and worked long hours for little pay. Child domestic workers - known locally as "petites bonnes" - told Human Rights Watch that their employers frequently beat and verbally abused them, wouldn't let them go to school, and sometimes refused them adequate food. Some child domestic workers worked for 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, for as little as US$11 per month.
"This new law is groundbreaking for domestic workers in Morocco, so many of whom have been exploited and abused," said Ahmed Benchemsi, Middle East and North Africa communications and advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. "But wage and working hour provisions still fall short, especially the new minimum wage for domestic workers, which is much lower than the legal minimum wage for other workers."
Before the adoption of the new law, domestic workers were excluded from Morocco's labor law, leaving them no legal rights to a minimum wage, limits on their hours, and not even a weekly day of rest.
The new law requires written contracts and sets 18 as the minimum age for domestic workers, with a phase-in period of five years during which girls between 16 and 18 are allowed to work. It limits working hours for 16- and 17-year-olds to 40 hours a week, and for adults to 48 hours a week, though Morocco's labor law for other sectors sets the limit at 44 hours. It guarantees 24 continuous hours of weekly rest, and a minimum wage of 1542 dirhams (US$158) per month, 60 percent of the minimum wage for jobs covered under the country's labor law. The law also provides for financial penalties for employers who violate the law.
"Domestic workers, who are most often poorly educated women and girls from the countryside, work in urban environments where they are isolated," said Benchemsi. "By providing domestic workers with legal, enforceable protection, Morocco is delivering the message that even the most vulnerable workers deserve humane conditions."
Human Rights Watch first investigated the use of child domestic labor in Morocco in 2005. A follow-up investigation in 2012 found that the number of children working in domestic work had dropped, but that many children were still working below the minimum age, then set at 15, under terrible conditions.
Some girls told Human Rights Watch their employers beat them with belts, wooden sticks, shoes, or plastic pipes. Some worked for more than 100 hours a week. The average salary of the girls interviewed in 2012 was 545 dirhams per month (US$61), less than one-quarter of the minimum monthly wage for the industrial sector.
This new law is groundbreaking for domestic workers in Morocco, so many of whom have been exploited and abused. But wage and working hour provisions still fall short, especially the new minimum wage for domestic workers, which is much lower than the legal minimum wage for other workers.
Most child domestic workers in Morocco come from poor, rural areas. Intermediaries frequently recruit them to work in larger cities, often making deceptive promises about their working conditions. Removed from their home and family, many child domestic workers are isolated and do not know where to turn for help if their employer exploits or abuses them.
To carry out the new law, Morocco should open a public awareness campaign to ensure that both domestic workers and employers are aware of its provisions. The government should also train labor inspectors and other officials in enforcing the law, and publicize penalties against employers who violate the law's provisions. Labor inspectors should have the authority to inspect anywhere a domestic worker is employed, and to interview domestic workers privately about their working conditions.
In 2011, the International Labour Organization (ILO) adopted the Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers (Convention 189), establishing global standards for domestic workers. The convention specifies that working hours for domestic workers should be equivalent to those for other types of work, and that domestic workers should be covered by minimum wage requirements.
Although many live-in domestic workers receive accommodations and food as part of their compensation, its value in many cases is unlikely to make up the gap of 40 percent between the minimum wage for domestic workers and other workers covered under Morocco's labor law. The recommendation accompanying the Domestic Workers Convention allows for in-kind payments, but specifies that such payments should be limited to allow for a salary necessary for the maintenance of a domestic worker and her family.
Morocco voted to adopt the Domestic Workers Convention in 2011, but has not yet ratified it. To date, 22 countries have ratified the convention, including countries from every region of the world except for the Middle East and North Africa.
"Now that Morocco has established legal protections for domestic workers, it should ratify the ILO Domestic Workers Convention," said Benchemsi. "By ratifying the convention, it can be a leader for other countries in the region in protecting domestic workers."