Millions of maids, nannies and cooks around the world moved a step closer to enjoying the same labor rights as other workers Thursday after countries approved a new convention granting them greater protection from exploitation.
Governments, employers and unions meeting in Geneva voted 396 in favor, 16 against, with 63 abstentions, to approve the Domestic Workers Convention that has been decades in the making.
The vote at the annual International Labor Conference was greeted with cheers and tears by dozens of activists in the gallery, many of whom were domestic workers.
Among them was Narbada Chhetri from Nepal, who said the convention _ which still has to be ratified by individual governments before it takes effect _ would change the lives of many of the world's 100 million domestic workers.
Hester Stephens, a union official and housekeeper from South Africa, said the treaty, once implemented, will lift many people out of slavery-like conditions.
"We've been treated like we don't exist, or we aren't human," she said.
Stephens, who years ago was forced to leave her baby son with family and seek work to escape poverty, said women in particular suffer exploitation because they make up the bulk of domestic workers. The International Labor Organization estimates that four-fifths of domestic workers are women.
(The vote was) "a historic moment for ILO but particularly for domestic workers all over the world," ILO Director-General Juan Somavia told The Associated Press.
Under the convention, countries must ensure domestic workers get regular working hours, vacation, maternity leave and social security.
Some Asian and African countries had opposed the convention out of concern about the impact of granting labor rights to millions of people in the informal economy.