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Discrimination at work

ILO: 90 per cent of domestic workers excluded from social protection

New ILO study highlights huge decent work deficits for domestic workers throughout the world.

News | 14 March 2016
© Brian Wolfe
GENEVA (ILO News) – 60 million of the world’s 67 million domestic workers still do not have access to any kind of social security coverage, says a new ILO study entitled “Social protection for domestic workers: Key policy trends and statistics”.

“The vast majority of domestic workers are women, accounting for 80 per cent of all workers in the sector globally,” explained Isabel Ortiz, Director of the ILO Social Protection Department. “Most of their work is undervalued and unprotected, when domestic workers become old or injured, they are fired, without a pension or adequate income support. This can and must be redressed.”

Domestic work is considered as a sector that is difficult to cover, partly because work is performed in private households and frequently for more than one employer. The occupation is also characterized by high job turnover, frequent in-kind payments, irregular wages and a lack of formal work contracts.

“Given that it is predominantly a female workforce highly subject to discrimination as well as social and economic vulnerability, policies to extend social protection to domestic workers are key elements in the fight against poverty and the promotion of gender equality,” said Philippe Marcadent, Chief of the ILO’s Inclusive Labour Markets, Labour Relations and Working Conditions Branch.

The largest gaps in social security coverage for domestic work are concentrated in developing countries, with Asia and Latin America representing 68 per cent of domestic workers worldwide.

However, the study finds that social protection deficits for domestic workers also persist in some industrialized countries.

In Italy, for example, some 60 per cent of domestic workers are not registered with, or contributing to, social security systems. In Spain and France, 30 per cent of domestic workers are excluded from social security coverage.

Migrant domestic workers excluded

The study also warns that migrant domestic workers – currently estimated at 11.5 million worldwide – often face even greater discrimination.

Around 14 per cent of countries whose social security systems provide some type of coverage for domestic workers do not extend the same rights to migrant domestic workers.

There is no justification for domestic workers to remain excluded from social security which is a human right for all."

ILO report
“Looking at ways to improve the current coverage,” said Fabio Duran-Valverde, Senior ILO Economist, “there is no single protection model that works best for domestic workers everywhere. But mandatory coverage (instead of voluntary coverage) is a crucial element for achieving adequate and effective coverage under any system.”

However, because of the uniquely vulnerable situation of domestic workers, mandatory coverage will not be effective alone. Strategies should include – among other measures − fiscal incentives, registration plans, awareness-raising campaigns targeting domestic workers and their employers as well as service voucher mechanisms.

Domestic work should also be integrated into broader policies aimed at reducing informal work.

Protection is affordable

Finally, the report also demonstrates that coverage of domestic workers by social security schemes is feasible and affordable, including in lower middle and low-income countries, as evidence from Mali, Senegal and Viet Nam clearly demonstrates.

The study shows that there is a clear trend toward increased coverage, especially in developing countries. However, resolving the worldwide deficit of social security coverage for domestic workers still remains a major challenge. There is no justification for this group to remain excluded from social security which is a human right for all, concludes the ILO report.

Improving national domestic work laws and practices

In an effort to improve national domestic work laws and practises – including for social protection – in 2011 the ILO adopted the Domestic Workers Convention (No. 189) and Domestic workers Recommendation (No. 201).

The two have become the most important instruments in terms of basic principles and minimum labour standards for the sector.

In February 2016, ILO Convention No 189 had been ratified by 22 countries.