ILO Governing Body reviews progress on the situation of domestic workers worldwide

The organization’s executive body discusses the measures that countries have adopted since the adoption of the ILO’s Domestic Workers Convention, as well as the steps that are needed to achieve decent working conditions for the world’s 53 million domestic workers.

Article | 25 October 2013
GENEVA – According to an ILO study released in January 2013, only ten per cent of domestic workers worldwide are covered by the same laws and legislation as other workers. Many of them are also subject to deplorable working conditions, labour exploitation and human rights abuses.

But the situation is changing. A discussion held during the ILO’s Governing Body on 23 October took stock of the progress made since the adoption of the ILO’s Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189) and the conclusions were quite encouraging.

To date, ten ILO member States (Bolivia, Germany, Guyana, Italy, Mauritius, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Philippines, South Africa and Uruguay) have ratified the Convention. Several other member States have started ratification procedures or have stated their intention of doing so.

Since June 2011, interest in improving the living and working conditions of domestic workers has spread across the regions. Legislative reforms regarding domestic workers have been completed in numerous countries, including Argentina, Bahrain, Brazil, Spain, Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam.

In several other countries, new regulatory and policy initiatives are being taken, including in Angola, Austria, Belgium, Chile, China, Finland, India, Indonesia, Jamaica, Morocco, Namibia, Paraguay, United Arab Emirates and United States.

The global “12 by 12” campaign to promote the rights of domestic workers and the ratification of Convention No. 189, launched by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) in partnership with the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF) and the International Domestic Workers’ Network (IDWN), has contributed to these developments.

International agencies, such as the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), international dialogue processes such as the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have also helped draw global attention to domestic workers.

“All this shows that the ILO Convention on domestic workers and its accompanying Recommendation have effectively started to play their role as catalysts for change,” said Manuela Tomei, Director of the ILO’s Conditions of Work and Equality Department.

The challenges ahead

There are currently some 53 million domestic workers worldwide and their number is growing, both in developed and developing countries. 83 per cent of them are women.
For countries that already have adopted reforms, the next and tougher challenge is to put in place adequate institutions and to build capacities to effectively implement the new regulations and policies and measure the results generated.

Many delegates attending the Governing Body discussion also referred to the challenge of informality. Domestic work is among the sectors with the highest share of informal employment and it accounts for a substantial portion of total informal employment in many developing countries.

“Facilitating the transition of domestic workers from the informal to the formal economy should be a key driver in our efforts,” Ronnie Goldberg from the United States said on behalf of the employers’ group. She added that such efforts should be mindful of the need to protecting domestic workers, while not destroying job opportunities for them.

The Governing Body discussion also highlighted that domestic workers are highly vulnerable to unacceptable forms of work, including child labour, exposure to sexual abuse and other forms of violence, slave-like conditions and forced labour. Domestic workers’ vulnerability to rights abuses and the informality of employment relationships in domestic work reinforce each other.

Speaking on behalf of the workers’ group, Helen Kelly said that formalization of employment, rights for domestic workers including freedom of association and collective bargaining and hours of work were still important challenges to be tackled with respect to domestic work.

At the end of the discussion, the ILO Governing Body announced that it would organize a high-level global conference on decent work for domestic workers. The date is yet to be determined.

The ILO’s role on domestic work
So far, the ILO has been supporting change by providing technical assistance on domestic work to more than 36 countries, such as:
  • In Brazil, the ILO facilitated a constitutional reform this year establishing equal labour rights for domestic workers.
  • In India, it helped the Government seeking ways to extend the coverage of minimum wage legislation and of the health insurance scheme to domestic workers.
  • In the Philippines, the ILO contributed to the enactment of the Domestic Workers’ Act and the ratification of ILO Convention No. 189.
  • In Zambia, national standards on domestic work are being reviewed in the context of the on-going labour law reform process, which the ILO is supporting.
New technical cooperation projects are also under way, such as:
  • The project funded by the United States Department of Labor entitled “PROMOTE: Decent work for domestic workers to end child domestic work (2013–16)”.
  • The European Union-funded “Global action programme on migrant domestic workers and their families (2013–15)” and the project to develop a tripartite framework for the support and protection of Ethiopian and Somali women domestic migrant workers.
  • The Swiss-funded advocacy strategy on the promotion of Convention No. 189 in the Arab States.
  • The “Work in freedom” programme recently launched by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development and the ILO.