January 25, 2022

Domestic Workers Convention May Be Landmark

Even countries that fail to ratify the pact will eventually be judged by its standards, they said, and the campaign to pass it had enlisted fresh allies, newly mindful of abuses from unpaid wages to rape.

Two days later, Saudi Arabia, a major destination for domestic workers, beheaded an Indonesian maid — at once highlighting the need for protections and the challenges of putting them in place.

The execution followed reports from maids who said their Saudi bosses had burned or beaten them, and the condemned woman, who killed her employer, said she had been abused. But when the Indonesian president protested, the Saudis stopped hiring Indonesians and pointedly turned to cheaper workers from countries less likely to complain.

The twin developments — accord in Geneva and maid wars in Riyadh — show opposing forces in a global campaign to protect domestic workers, an overlooked group of as many as 100 million people.

More broadly, that campaign tests the effort to raise work standards in a world of cheap and mobile labor. Many domestic workers are migrants, and the precedents could shape the treatment of other migrant groups. On Sept. 30, for example, Hong Kong’s High Court struck down a law that had excluded domestic workers from the residency rights offered to other foreign citizens, potentially allowing 100,000 maids to gain the right to stay.

The events show that “officials have not forgotten about migrant workers,” said Philip Martin, an economist at the University of California, Davis. “But they are also a reminder of the difficulties of extending effective protections to them.”

“The receiving countries can always say, ‘We will get workers somewhere else,’ ” he said.

While acknowledging such challenges, the treaty’s supporters say that it establishes vital new principles and that it will accelerate changes already under way. Before the pact was approved, Singapore, Jordan and New York State had passed new laws, and proposals are being considered in places as different as California and Kuwait. Even Saudi Arabia, a source of frequent abuse complaints, is considering changes that officials may feel more inclined to accept after voting for the pact.

“The treaty was a watershed event,” said Nisha Varia, a researcher at Human Rights Watch. “There is now a global consensus that these women deserve the same rights as other workers. All the governments involved in this conversation will be under pressure to examine their labor laws.”

As a labor force composed mostly of women who work behind closed doors, domestic workers are hard to organize and vulnerable to attack. Many countries exclude them from labor laws, leaving no legal boundaries on their hours or pay.

In the United States, domestic workers are covered by minimum-wage laws, but they are excluded from federal statutes on occupational health, overtime and the right to organize.

As long ago as 1965, the International Labor Organization, a branch of the United Nations, saw an “urgent need” to protect domestic workers, whom it called “singularly subject to exploitation.” But interest in formal action waned, and women flooded the workplace, making nannies and maids a cornerstone of modern economies.

The export of domestic workers became big business in migration hubs like Indonesia and the Philippines, where more than half the migrants are women. Both countries celebrate the sums the women send home and simmer at the stories of mistreatment that percolate in the news media.

Saudi Arabia is a prime destination for both countries. In 2008, a study by Ms. Varia cited dozens of cases that amounted “to forced labor, trafficking, or slavery-like conditions.” While abuses occur everywhere, the report said, Saudi Arabia prosecuted few cases and sometimes allowed bosses to pursue retaliatory charges, like theft, against victims who complained.

A spokesman for the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Washington declined to comment. In the past, Saudi officials have accused critics of exaggerating isolated cases of abuse, and noted that legions of women still seek the jobs.

When the international labor group turned to domestic workers in 2010, Persian Gulf states, speaking as a bloc, called for nonbinding recommendations. In a reversal this year, they supported a binding treaty.

What is more, they strengthened it, with calls for stronger language on contract rights, overtime pay and access to courts during employer conflicts.

“It really made an impression,” said Ellene Sana of the Center for Migrant Advocacy in Manila. “When you think of abuses, you think of the gulf — yet here they are, standing up for domestic workers.”

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/09/world/domestic-workers-convention-may-be-landmark.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Debt Problem’s Sure Cure: Economic Growth

It seems remarkable now, with all the End Times talk of debt ceilings and default, but it was only 11 years ago that the owners of that electronic totem, the Durst family, simply pulled the plug. The clock, a fixture since 1989, went dark after the federal government ended its 2000 fiscal year with a record $236.4 billion budget surplus.

Today, well — you know. We face the largest budget deficit the nation has ever known: $1.6 trillion, the equivalent of about 11 percent of our economy. And, whatever Washington does, many economists say the situation will grow only worse, particularly as Americans age and Medicare costs spiral higher.

But there is, in theory, a happy solution to our debt troubles. It’s called economic growth. No need to raise taxes or cut programs. Just get the economy growing the way it used to.

Good luck with that. Growth is in short supply these days, as new, dismal numbers underscored on Friday. Revised data showed that the recession took an even bigger bite of the economy than we thought. And economists are sizing up the risks of another recession.

“The basic issue is that the U.S. is on an unsustainable fiscal track,” says Dean Maki, the chief United States economist at Barclays Capital. “From that point, none of the choices are fun.” The most obvious choices, Mr. Maki says, are to reduce spending (ouch), raise taxes (yuck), let inflation run (gasp) or default (thud).

We wouldn’t need any of that if we could restore economic growth. If that happened, Americans would become richer and pay more taxes. Et voilà! — we’d pay down the debt painlessly.

Crazy as that might sound, particularly given Friday’s figures, the possibility isn’t some economic equivalent of that nice big farm where your childhood dog Skip was sent to run free. There are precedents.

Before its economy crashed, Ireland was a star of this sort of debt reduction. In the 1980s, Ireland’s debt dwarfed its economy. Over the next two decades, though, that debt shrank to about a quarter of gross domestic product, largely because the economy went gangbusters.

“Ireland went from being, you know, the emerging market in a European context, to a very dynamic economy,” says Carmen Reinhart, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and co-author of “This Time Is Different,” a history of debt crises.

The United States has done the same in the past, too. After World War II, gross federal debt reached 122 percent of G.D.P., the highest ratio on record. But over the next 40 years, it fell to about 33 percent. That wasn’t because some blue-ribbon panel prescribed austerity; it was because the American economy became much, much richer.

The same happened during the prosperous 1990s, which began with deficits and ended with surpluses. Former President Bill Clinton is often credited for that turnabout, as he engineered higher tax rates. But most economists attribute the surplus years primarily to extraordinarily rapid growth.

It would be lovely to repeat that experience today, and send our federal debt off to that farm with Skip.

But the structure of America’s federal spending is different now than it was in, say, the immediate postwar decades. Back then, growth helped to erase the debt. But remember that in the 1950s, the United States didn’t have Medicare. The population was younger, and Americans didn’t live as long.

Given the health spending obligations we face, and the debt overhang we’re already dealing with, growth rates would have to acquire something like Ludicrous Speed, as in the movie “Spaceballs,” to keep up. And, near term, even modest speed is unlikely.

Usually after a recession, growth snaps back quickly and the economy makes up for ground lost — and then some. That’s not the case this time, at least so far. In the 60 years before the Great Recession, the economy expanded at an average annual rate of 3.5 percent. In the second quarter of this year, it grew at less than half of that pace, putting us further and further behind where we would be if the economy were functioning normally.

These doldrums won’t last forever, but many predict that economic growth to come will be somewhat slower than it was before the recession, for many of the same reasons that our debt is growing so quickly — the aging of the population, for instance.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/31/business/economy/sure-cure-for-debt-problems-is-economic-growth.html?partner=rss&emc=rss