The Government recently rejected a UN measure to provide protection for domestic workers, such as cooks and nannies
The Government recently revealed it would abstain from voting on the International Labour Organization’s convention covering domestic workers.
The Department for Business, Innovation & Skills
(BIS) said it would be wrong to vote on the measure because it would not be ratifying the convention – to bind the UK to its rules - for the foreseeable future.
The convention has been written to protect hundreds of thousands of workers, including cleaners and nannies, who are currently being mistreated, enslaved or denied basic rights around the world.
It is likely the UK will be the only member country of the International Labour Organization
to abstain from voting on the measure in Geneva on Thursday.
Campaigners were left shocked by the decision, and have accused the Government of betraying Britain’s 200-year history in the fight against slavery, and of embarrassing itself on the world stage.
Workers that would be covered under the new measure are not currently covered by working-time regulations in the UK, or health and safety legislation. If they live with their employer and are treated as ‘family,’ they are also not legally entitled to the minimum wage,
Justice for Domestic Workers interviewed 111 members in 2009 and found more than half were required to work more than 55 hours a week, and 95 percent did not get the minimum wage.
Aidan McQuade, director of Anti-Slavery International
, said of the Government’s decision: "This is just shocking. It's letting down other countries, it's letting down those most vulnerable to forced labour and abuse, and it's letting down the citizens and traditions of this country.
"Britain makes great and rightful claim to leading the struggle against slavery for 200 years. Here is a critical front and the UK is not only not pulling its weight but is actually trying to pull others back.
"I was at the Centre for Social Justice launch this morning. We're talking about being a leader in the struggle against slavery and here's Britain saying 'yeah, we're not that concerned'."
The CBI, which holds the ‘employer’s vote’ with the ILO, said it would vote against the convention. Neil Carberry, director of employment, said: "The proposed convention would undermine the principle of EU law that an individual should be protected against being forced to work long hours but can choose to work longer if they wish."
expressed concern at the Government’s decision: "By raising objections to this vital convention the UK government will weaken the international consensus, meaning fewer countries will ratify it, and domestic workers in countries where existing protections are weak are likely to remain vulnerable to exploitation," said Oliver Pearce, the charity's policy officer.
And Labour's former Europe minister, Denis MacShane, wrote to David Cameron asking him to reverse the BIS decision. "I cannot believe that you or any member of the coalition government can oppose this measure. It is sad and shameful that Britain alone in the world will refuse to vote for this convention."