Progress for Domestic Workers’ Rights, but most of the world lags behind

Despite progress in several countries in protecting the labour rights of domestic workers, most of the world still lags behind.

Thirty-five countries have now ratified ILO Convention 189, which was adopted 11 years ago today, along with Recommendation 201. These international standards provide vital protections for domestic workers, and provide a basis for trade unions and domestic workers’ organisations to ensure that domestic workers are covered by labour legislation. Today, some 16% of the world’s estimated 76 million domestic workers are covered, and only around 8% of countries, mostly in Arab and Asia-Pacific countries wholly exclude them from coverage.

Despite the progress, exploitation and abuse of domestic workers, most of whom are women, remains widespread. Live-in domestic workers and migrant domestic workers are particularly vulnerable to poor working conditions. Exploitation, abuse, gender-based violence and harassment persist for many domestic workers.

Other decent work deficits persist as well, including excessive or undefined working hours, insufficient rest, low or non-payment of wages and lack of access to social protection. Globally, domestic workers earn around 56 per cent of the average monthly wages of other employees, and many of them are trapped in informal work.

Sharan Burrow, ITUC general Secretary, said “We welcome and support the work of so many unions and domestic workers’ groups to get governments to recognise this undervalued and often exploitative work, and bringing these tens of millions of workers into the scope of labour legislation is a vital step. We call on all governments to do so, including with ratification of Convention 189. This is one of the largest occupational groups in the world, and there can be no excuse for depriving them of rights and protections.”

The ITUC 4th World Women’s Conference this year endorsed the care economy agenda as one of the critical pillars in its roadmap and outcome document, which embeds its commitment to ensure decent work for all care workers, including domestic workers.