Chapter 8: Minimum wages for domestic workers

8.4 Who should set the minimum wage for domestic workers?

Organizations of domestic workers and employers of domestic workers should be involved

The Minimum Wage Fixing Convention, 1970 (No. 131), clearly outlines that organizations of employers and workers concerned or, where no such organizations exist, representatives of employers and workers concerned on a basis of equality and persons having recognized competence for representing the general interests of the country should be involved in the minimum wage setting process (see Chapter 3).

This is no different for domestic workers.
When setting a minimum wage for the domestic work sector, organizations of domestic workers and employers of domestic workers should be involved, where such bodies exist. They are most intimately aware of the challenges surrounding wages in the sector.

The Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189), taking into account the low level of organization in the sector, calls for Members to:

…implement the provisions of this Convention, in consultation with the most representative employers’ and workers’ organizations, through laws and regulations, as well as through collective agreements or additional measures consistent with national practice, by extending or adapting existing measures to cover domestic workers or by developing specific measures for them, as appropriate. (Article 18)

Ensuring the voice and representation of workers and their employers is a fundamental right. Yet domestic workers are not always organized into representative organizations of workers, and their employers are even less frequently organized into representative organizations of employers.

Sometimes organizations of domestic workers and their employers exist and domestic workers are represented by the most representative organizations. In other cases, they either do not exist, or are not affiliated with such representative bodies.

In some countries, domestic workers are not organized into formal unions. This occurs because they may not have the right to form a union, or because of practical barriers to forming a union.

Several countries have established minimum wages for the sector through collective bargaining, tripartite consultations, or tripartite expert groups, in consultation with organizations of domestic workers and of employers of domestic workers, or with the most representative organizations of employers and workers, or both.

Specific situations to consider

When representative organizations exist

When domestic workers and their employers have their own representative organizations, wage setting should take place through collective bargaining or in consultation with these representative bodies.

France’s minimum wage (SMIC) applies to all workers, including domestic workers. Three collective agreements have also been negotiated between various trade unions and organizations representing employers of domestic workers. Each agreement takes into account varying employment relationships, depending on whether a public or private agency places the workers, or if the household employs the worker directly. Organizations of employers representing each type of employment relationship exist, and each one is a signatory to the respective collective agreement.

When there is an alternative employers’ organization

Often, a union of domestic workers exists, but there is no organization of employers. In Uruguay, the domestic workers’ union SUTD advocated for a minimum wage for domestic workers, but an employer body first had to be identified to act as the negotiating counterpart.

The government approached the Chamber of Commerce, which declined. It then approached the Liga de Amas de Casa, Consumidores y Usuarios de la Republica de Uruguay (LACCU), [the Housewives’ League], to step in as the representative organization of employers. The LACCU accepted, and agreement was signed including, among other working conditions, a minimum wage for domestic workers.

An agreement on a minimum wage increase was also reached between seven domestic workers’ unions and two employers’ organizations in Argentina.1

When domestic workers and employers are insufficiently organized

More often than not, the minimum wage is established specifically due to the vulnerability and lack of representation within a sector. For this reason, other representatives sometimes play a role.

In Switzerland, a minimum wage was negotiated for the sector through a standard employment contract. This process was called for by the national trade union confederation UNIA, and was negotiated by the representative sectoral organizations that most closely related to domestic work (i.e. the hotel and service sector union, and its employer counterpart from the restaurant and hotel business).

In South Africa, sectoral determinations for a minimum wage were issued through consultation with a tripartite committee of experts to set wages for sectors that do not have representation. In 2002 the South African Ministry of Labour established the first minimum wage for the domestic work sector, following consultation with tripartite experts, the domestic workers’ union SADSAWU, workers, employers, and the general public.

1 Hobden, C. (2015). Labour Relations and Collective Bargaining, Issue Brief 2: Improving working conditions for domestic workers: organizing, coordinated action and bargaining (Geneva, ILO).