News/us: Domestic Servants Protest Treatment

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Subject: News/us: Domestic Servants Protest Treatment
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Sat Oct 02 1999 - 15:10:33 EDT


Domestic Servants Protest Treatment
William Branigin, Washington Post Staff Writer
The Washington Post, September 29, 1999

Like thousands of other women recruited from abroad to work as domestic
servants in the Washington area, Elizabeth Iguago looked forward to her job
as a nanny in Maryland, expecting to be paid the going rate. Instead, she
says, she received little more than $1 an hour and found herself caught up
in a visa fraud scheme involving an employee of the International Monetary
Fund.

The case of the 22-year-old Ecuadoran is among the latest in what local
human rights groups say is common practice: the exploitation of women from
poor countries brought here to work as servants for employees of the IMF,
the World Bank, foreign embassies, the United Nations and other
international organizations.

Holding a placard that said in Spanish, "We are workers, not slaves,"
Iguago joined about 30 human rights activists in a protest yesterday at the
Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, site of an annual World Bank-IMF meeting. The
demonstrators demanded stronger steps to ensure that the institutions'
staff members treat their servants fairly. They shouted slogans such as
"Stop abusing domestic workers" and "World Bank slavery's got to go," as
dignitaries drove up to the hotel in limousines escorted by D.C. police cars.

The main organizer of the rally, the Campaign for Migrant Domestic Workers
Rights, says that the World Bank and the IMF have agreed to implement some
internal reforms but have fallen short of the aggressive response they
promised earlier this year and that new cases have surfaced in the
meantime. The institutions have refused to allow independent monitoring of
the servants or the participation of outside social service agencies in
advising the domestics of their rights, according to the campaign, a
Washington-based coalition of service agencies, religious groups and social
action organizations.

IMF and World Bank officials said they are crafting a "beefed-up" code of
conduct for staffers, imposing new internal reporting requirements on
contracts with domestics and drawing up a system of "random audits" to
check that proper wages and taxes are paid.

With the new code, "we will certainly be in a good position to conduct
monitoring ourselves and follow up on any allegations," said Joan Powers,
assistant general counsel of the IMF.

But Mark Schaefer, attorney for an Ethiopian woman who says she was
virtually enslaved for more than eight years by a former IMF employee,
said, "We're not convinced that their own internal mechanisms are adequate
to protect against the abuses we've seen. Their policy is based on a lack
of understanding of the scope of the issue."

More than 30,000 domestics have entered the United States in the 1990s
under special employment visas, designated A-3 and G-5, to work for foreign
diplomats and employees of international groups. The campaign estimates
that 1,000 domestics work for World Bank and IMF officials under the G-5
category; thousands have fled their employers over the years, joining the
area's vast underground work force.

Many of the domestics are treated fairly, but others "are being held as
virtual prisoners, forced to work extraordinarily long hours . . . for
little or no pay," the campaign said. Employers routinely confiscate their
passports, confine them to the home, ignore written contracts and sometimes
beat or sexually abuse them, the group said.

Among those at yesterday's rally was Yeshehareg Teferra, an illiterate
Ethiopian who was brought to Silver Spring in 1990 to work for Dawit
Makonnen, an Ethiopian employee of the IMF. Although Makonnen subsequently
left the IMF, he kept Teferra as a servant in violation of her visa and
paid her less than 3 cents an hour for more than eight years of work, she
said. Makonnen fled the country this year after being sued by Teferra for
back wages and damages.

On Sept. 13, a federal judge ordered Makonnen to pay $ 342,606, but Teferra
said she has little hope of collecting. Makonnen now works in the Ethiopian
capital, Addis Ababa, as a consultant for the U.N. Economic Commission for
Africa, whose director is attending the World Bank-IMF conference.

Melanie Orhant
morhant@igc.org
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