Domestic workers

Skilled to care, forced to work? Recognizing the skills profiles of migrant domestic workers in ASEAN amid forced labour and exploitation

This study presents up-to-date findings on the lived experiences of migrant domestic workers in Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. It takes a quantitative and qualitative approach to understanding the skills profiles of migrant domestic workers across the three destination countries – as set against their working conditions and particularly indicators of forced labour.

In millions of households across Asia and the Pacific domestic workers work behind closed doors to ensure the health, safety and development of those who employ their services. This work requires skills in child or elder care, cooking, cleaning, gardening, household management and other areas, but it is sometimes exploitative and forced, often underpaid, and almost always physically demanding and emotionally draining.

Still, many decision-makers consider domestic work as being outside of the scope of formal work. Despite the contributions that they make to homes and communities, the exchange of domestic workers’ skills, time and effort for pay is not always recognized as work, and domestic workers are regularly excluded from labour and social protection schemes, especially if they are also migrants. Consequently, a skilled and highly in-demand sector of work available to meet modern care challenges still faces stubborn resistance to the legal and policy changes that are required to enable decent work and avert exploitation.