Who are domestic workers ?

Domestic workers comprise a significant part of the global workforce in informal employment and are among the most vulnerable groups of workers. They work for private households, often without clear terms of employment, unregistered in any book, and excluded from the scope of labour legislation. Currently there are at least 53 million domestic workers worldwide, not including child domestic workers and this number is increasing steadily in developed and developing countries. Even though a substantial number of men work in the sector – often as gardeners, drivers or butlers – it remains a highly feminized sector: 83 per cent of all domestic workers are women.

Their work may include tasks such as cleaning the house, cooking, washing and ironing clothes, taking care of children, or elderly or sick members of a family, gardening, guarding the house, driving for the family, and even taking care of household pets.

A domestic worker may work on full-time or part-time basis; may be employed by a single household or by multiple employers; may be residing in the household of the employer (live-in worker) or may be living in his or her own residence (live-out). A domestic worker may be working in a country of which she/he is not a national, thus referred to as a migrant domestic worker.

At present, domestic workers often face very low wages, excessively long hours, have no guaranteed weekly day of rest and at times are vulnerable to physical, mental and sexual abuse or restrictions on freedom of movement. Exploitation of domestic workers can partly be attributed to gaps in national labour and employment legislation, and often reflects discrimination along the lines of sex, race and caste.

ILO in action: Deplorable working conditions, labour exploitation, and abuses of human rights are major problems facing domestic workers. The ILO undertakes to protect the rights of domestic workers, promote equality of opportunity and treatment, and improve working and living conditions. Its global strategy consists of strengthening national capacities and institutions including policy and legislative reforms; promoting the ratification and implementation of the Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189) and Recommendation (No. 201); facilitating the organization of domestic workers and their employers; awareness-raising and advocacy; and development of knowledge base and policy tools.

The Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189), a landmark treaty setting standards for the treatment of domestic workers, affirms that domestic workers are, like other workers, entitled to the respect and protection of their fundamental principles and rights at work, and to minimum protection. The convention lays down a framework of minimum standards regarding:
  • Promotion and protection of human rights
  • Fundamental principles and rights at work
  • Terms and conditions of employment
  • Working time
  • Remuneration
  • Occupational safety and health
  • Social security
  • Groups with special risks: child domestic workers, live-in workers, migrant domestic workers
  • Private employment agencies
  • Dispute settlement, complaints and enforcement