Chapter 8: Minimum wages for domestic workers

8.1 Defining domestic work

When defining the term “domestic worker”, the delegates to the 2011 International Labour Conference did not rely on listing the specific tasks or services performed by domestic workers – these vary from country to country and may change over time. Rather, they supported a general formulation that draws on the feature common to domestic workers – that they work for private households.

The Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189), reflects this when it defines “domestic workers” in Article 1:
(a) the term “domestic work” means work performed in or for a household or households;
(b) the term “domestic worker” means any person engaged in domestic work within an employment relationship;
(c) a person who performs domestic work only occasionally or sporadically and not on an occupational basis is not a domestic worker.
From a statistical standpoint, the restriction of domestic work to private households also provides a convenient way of identifying domestic workers under the International Standard Industrial Classification (ISIC). The still widely used ISIC Revision 3.1 contains the sectoral division “Activities of private households as employers of domestic staff” (Division 95), which corresponds to the definition in Convention No. 189. It captures:

the activities of households as employers of domestic personnel such as maids, cooks, waiters, valets, butlers, laundresses, gardeners, gatekeepers, stable-lads, chauffeurs, caretakers, governesses, babysitters, tutors, secretaries etc. It allows the domestic personnel employed to state the activity of their employer in censuses or studies, even though the employer is an individual.1

A second advantage of this sectoral approach is that it imposes relatively low requirements for the level of detail in statistical data. Using this sectoral approach, 52.6 million men and women were employed as domestic workers across the world in 2010. Figure 1 below shows that the vast majority of domestic workers work in Latin America and the Caribbean and Asia.

Figure 1. Distribution of domestic workers by sex and region, 2010
Source: Reproduced from ILO (2013), Domestic workers across the world: Global and regional statistics and the extent of legal protection, (Geneva, ILO).

It is also possible to identify domestic workers on the basis of their occupation however, this is not recommended. Although some occupations are predominantly performed within households, others can also be performed outside the home – a cook can also work in a restaurant, a gardener in a flower nursery and a gatekeeper at an office building. This makes it difficult to distinguish domestic workers from other workers, thereby potentially over or undercounting them.2

1 Published in 2008, ISIC Revision 4 includes Division 97 “Activities of households as employers of domestic personnel”; however, its definition is identical to that of ISIC Revision 3.1 Division 95, despite the slight modification to the title. ISIC Revision 4 was developed for use during the 2010 Population Census round, but it has not yet been adopted by many national statistical offices around the world. More information on ISIC.
2 Cited from ILO (2013). Domestic workers across the world: Global and regional statistics and the extent of legal protection, (Geneva, ILO).