Morocco should take steps to ensure compliance with its new domestic workers law, which takes effect on October 2, 2018, Human Rights Watch said. The authorities should ensure that there are robust labor inspections, provide domestic workers with improved access to an adequate dispute-resolution system, and raise awareness about the new law.
Parliament approved the law on July 26, 2016, but the authorities delayed its enforcement to pass related implementation decrees. It provides new worker protections including a requirement for a standard contract, limits on working hours, a weekly rest day, and a minimum wage. While it still offers weaker protections to domestic workers than other workers, it is an important step forward. Additional steps are needed to ensure that domestic workers can realize their rights. In a memorandum to the authorities, Human Rights Watch sets out key measures to enhance access to justice and implementing mechanisms for the new law.
“Morocco’s new domestic workers law finally provides hundreds of thousands of domestic workers with minimal protections after years of exclusion from the country’s labor law,” said Rothna Begum, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “But to make these rights a reality, the authorities need to put effective systems in place to ensure compliance with the law.”
Many domestic workers live and work in their employers’ homes, hidden from the outside world, almost always in informal working arrangements, leaving them vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Human Rights Watch investigated conditions for child domestic workers – those under 18 – in Morocco in 2005 and 2012. Some workers as young as 8 – known locally as “petites bonnes” – told Human Rights Watch that their employers frequently beat and verbally abused them, would not let them go to school, and sometimes refused them adequate food. Some worked for 12 hours a day, seven days a week, for as little as 100 Moroccan dirhams (US$11) per month.
The new law sets the minimum age for domestic workers at 18, with a phase-in period of five years during which 16- and 17-year-old domestic workers will be allowed to work. Under the law, domestic workers are entitled to proper labor contracts, limits to working hours, guaranteed days off and paid vacations, and a set minimum wage. Employers who violate these provisions will face financial penalties, with prison sentences for repeat offenders in some cases.
Despite these gains, the new law still offers less protection to domestic workers than the Moroccan Labor Code does for all other workers. The new law allows a maximum of 48 hours of work a week for adult domestic workers, compared with 44 for other workers, and sets a minimum wage 40 percent lower than the minimum wage for jobs in manufacturing, commercial, and free trade sectors.
Moroccan authorities should eliminate these discrepancies and guarantee domestic workers the same rights as workers covered by the labor law. In the meantime, they should act quickly to ensure that domestic workers can realize their rights under the law.
The new law provides for a conciliation process that labor inspectors can conduct between domestic workers and their employers in the case of disputes, but it does not set out time limits for resolving disputes. The law also does not deal with other barriers that impede domestic workers from accessing justice. Moroccan authorities should set time limits for the dispute resolution process, provide resources needed to make it work, offer alternative avenues of legal recourse, and consider fast-track dispute resolution systems under a set financial threshold.
In the absence of clarity under the new law, Moroccan authorities should ensure that labor inspectors have the authority and training to inspect working conditions. They should be able to enter employers’ homes, with due regard to privacy, and interview domestic workers away from their employers.
The authorities should also consider incentives for employers to register domestic workers and develop model work schedules and pay slips to ensure that employers provide documentation of working hours and payment of salaries.
A lack of awareness of the law and recourse available will limit workers’ ability to defend their rights. The authorities should work with trade unions and nongovernmental groups to raise awareness among employers and domestic workers about the law and the recourse available if problems arise. Training employers and changing social attitudes will also be key to improving working conditions.
Morocco voted in 2011 for the International Labour Organization (ILO) Domestic Workers Convention, the global treaty on domestic workers’ rights, and now should ratify it. The treaty 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. Morocco would set an example by becoming the first state party to the treaty in the Middle East and North Africa region.
“The new law is an important start, but the authorities should invest in ending the isolation and abuse of domestic workers by changing attitudes of employers, inspecting homes, and providing effective access to justice,” Begum said.