Legislature passes convention on domestic workers

Lawmakers have approved for the second and final time a binding agreement or convention with the U.N. International Labour Organization to safeguard domestic employees.

The net effect of the action, when it is approved by President Laura Chinchilla is to provide another layer of protection to what the legislature estimates are 13,113 men and 122,400 women working in 134,512 households.

Costa Rica appears to conform to much of what is required in the treaty, which was approved in 2011. For example, Article 4 of the agreement demands that member states set age limits for child labor. Costa Rica already has a law that prohibits youngsters younger than 15 from working in the home and prohibits those under 18 from living there.

Major themes of the agreement are to provide protection from any form of labor harassment or sexual abuse. The agreement also stipulated that a domestic worker must have 24 continuous hours of free time each week. Workers also are guaranteed certain rights like a work contract and a safe and healthy workplace.

Domestic workers also can decide if they will live at the household. Also provided are effective access to the courts and a system for filing complaints.

The legislature said that the Labour Organization estimated that 12.3 percent of working females in the country are in domestic service. The Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería reported that about 20 percent of these are foreigners.

Costa Rica made some changes in its labor code in 2009 that satisfies some of the agreement’s requirements.

There is at least one glaring omission.

The Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social estimated that only 12.9 percent of domestic workers are insured under the Caja system. A summary of the law said that this situation merits attention by lawmakers and the Caja.

One problem is that the Caja allows those who work less than eight hours a day to insure themselves as an independent contractor, said the summary.

The worker ends up paying more than the employer would pay because of the way the Caja figures contributions, the summary said.

The agreement also established equality for domestic workers with others in the labor field. Costa Rica includes domestic workers in its minimum wage laws, but some of the salary can be offset by meals and living quarters. And, too, most domestic workers are not fully aware of the provision of the law.

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