Domestic Worker’s Rights Take Centre-Stage in Timor Leste

Jun 30, 2020

Lock-down hits domestic workers in Timor Leste

When the COVID-19 pandemic first reached Timor Leste in late March 2020, the Timorese government responded quickly by implementing a State of Emergency, shutting down schools, churches and public gatherings. The State of Emergency has been extended twice, and it is due to expire at the end of June 2020. This decisive action and the immediate response of civil society to educate and support communities across the country, has meant that Timor Leste has had no recorded deaths and no current cases of COVID-19 for over two months.

Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA partner organisations in Timor Leste were quick to propose COVID-19 response activities to support their members and communities. The Working Women’s Centre of Timor Leste (WWCTL) began by reaching out to all of its membership, many of whom were forced into vulnerable situations due to the state lock-down. Without clear social protections in place for domestic workers, many were let go without any income. The WWCTL quickly identified and provided support to its most vulnerable members (including single mothers and those unable to return to their home villages) and contacted employers seeking commitments to employment protection during the pandemic.

Read more about WWCTL’s COVID-19 Response in our APHEDA People interview with Ricar Pasoela, Coordinator of the WWCTL.

Civil society collaboration during COVID-19 lockdown

As project partners were unable to conduct their normal activities during lock-down, they sought other ways to reach out to their membership and provide support in collaboration with all members of Timor Leste’s peak NGO Forum, FONGTIL. In April 2020, FONGTIL established a media centre to provide weekly updates to the community on the crisis from NGO’s and civil society organisations.

On 16 June 16, International Domestic Workers’ Day, the Working Women’s Centre of Timor Leste and Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA decided to take an innovative approach to the weekly FONGTIL press conference and proposed a talk show format. Key decision makers were invited to discuss the situation for vulnerable women workers in Timor Leste and promote the dignity of decent and fair work for domestic workers on live television.

Domestic workers take to television on International Domestic Worker’s Day

WWCTL was delighted that invitations to the Secretary of State for the Department of Labour (SEFOPE) Mr Julião da Silva and the President of the Timor Leste Women’s Parliamentary Group, Ms Lidia Norbeta dos Santos Martins, were accepted. Both leaders agreed to take part in a two-hour talk show dedicated to the objectives of the WWCTL in recognition of Domestic Workers as workers under law and their urgent need for legal and social protections. The talk show was televised live across all municipalities of Timor Leste.

The IDWD panel included WWCTL Coordinator Ricar Pascoela and Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA Country Manager Elisabeth Araujo together with the invited guests and was moderated by FONGTIL member Ferndando Costa, Head of Oxfam in Dili. The opportunity to share the voices of domestic workers and the research and demands of the WWCTL to both the televised community and key decision makers live to air was a success, giving the speakers an opportunity to reach a much larger audience than regular outreach activities of the WWCTL.

This forum was also attended by seventeen domestic workers who had received permission from their employers to take time off work and many other NGO’s including some of Timor Leste’s women’s organisations such as Alola Foundation, Alfela, Caucus and Rede Feto. Several television, print and online media outlets provided great coverage of the event.

The passage of the special law for domestic workers through parliament, was given enormous support from their guests live to air. Government representatives promised that the next phase of approval – presenting the bill to a Council of Ministers – would be swiftly organised. Suggesting that the bill is already 90% through the process to be promulgated by the Prime Minister, a commitment was made that with the newly stabilised Government in place, the law should be passed before the end of 2020.

(English Below) Iha tinan ida ne'e ho situasaun pandemia COVID-19 WWCTL hamutuk ho FONGTIL realiza programa talk show…

Posted by Working Women's Centre Timor Leste on Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Campaigning on air gives new boost

This is not only enormous progress for the WWCTL, it has powerful implications for domestic workers across the region. In South East Asia and the Pacific, the only country who has already ratified ILO’s Convention 189 (2011) for the protection of Domestic Workers is the Philippines. Once the bill has passed, Timor Leste will be the first country in the region to have ratified ILO 189 through legislation.

This use of live televised media and the existing relationships with elected and appointed leaders was applauded by many other NGO’s, particularly the women’s organisations who are keen to promote their own campaigns in this public way into the future. Journalists also found that by providing immediate access to the comments of decision makers and civil society on significant issues for the community, they had new opportunities for coverage and reporting.

The campaign is not over yet but the positive response from the televised coverage has given the Working Women’s Centre of Timor Leste impetus for a fresh round of lobbying within and outside government until the goal of legal recognition of domestic workers is achieved.


The Working Women’s Centre of Timor Leste’s Advocacy, Education, Organizing & Support Program for East Timor Domestic Workers is supported by the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).


Women's Solidarity Across Borders

In Timor Leste, women workers are organising to build their collective power at work. By becoming a member of Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA, you will be supporting partner organisations like the Working Women’s Centre of Timor Leste that are campaigning and lobbying for stronger protections for workers. 

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