Chapter 8: Minimum wages for domestic workers

8.9 Live-in and live-out domestic workers

The two guiding criteria have now been adapted to set general parameters for a minimum wage rate negotiation. In addition, several particularities of the domestic work sector, including different types of employment practices, are usually considered when setting the level, to take into account the working time arrangements of live-in and live-out domestic workers, their average weekly hours, and prevailing practices of payments in kind.

Domestic work employment practices and types

Among domestic workers, there are various types of employment arrangement that create subgroups within the sector. One major differentiation is between domestic workers who live in the homes of their employers and those who live in their own homes (live out). Among those who live out, some work full time for a single family, whereas others work on a daily or hourly basis for several households within a week, or even within a single day.

Recent ILO estimates have found that domestic workers generally work some of the longest and most unpredictable hours.1 Those who live in are particularly vulnerable to long hours because they remain in the homes of their employers. Indeed, the average weekly working hours of live-in domestic workers tend to be higher than those of live-out domestic workers.

In Chile, live-in domestic workers worked in 2000 an average of 67.6 hours per week, while live-out domestic workers averaged a far more reasonable 40 hours.2 In the Philippines, 51 per cent of female and 38 per cent of male live-in workers worked at least 61 hours in a given week in 2010 – approximately one-third recorded working on average two hours more per day than live-out domestic workers. 3

Such long working hours arise partly from the workers’ exclusion from provisions that limit working time. The ILO estimates that 56.6 per cent of domestic workers have no legal limits to their normal weekly hours,4 and 44.9 per cent have no entitlement to weekly rest. 5

When setting the minimum wage, governments and social partners should therefore take into account whether domestic workers have rights to limits on normal weekly hours, daily rest and weekly rest, and whether they have overtime protection – many don’t.

These types of protection are necessary to ensure domestic workers’ human and labour rights, and also to facilitate the process of setting a minimum wage.

These employment types may see different practices in wage setting and payment. A live-out domestic worker, for example, may be paid on an hourly, weekly, or monthly basis, while live-in domestic workers are often paid weekly or monthly. A monthly wage without strict limits on working time or a right to overtime pay puts domestic workers at risk of excessively long hours, thus reducing the de facto hourly wage rate to unreasonably low levels.

Live-in domestic workers are often paid partly in kind. Since they are living in the household of the employer, the employer sometimes pays an even lower wage, under the presumption that some of the worker’s daily living costs are covered by living with the employer. This can put live-in domestic workers in a vulnerable position.

Similarly, live-in domestic workers who are paid partly in kind risk not bringing in enough cash income to support their own family members, contribute to social security, or put aside savings for future needs. When accommodation is provided to the worker instead of cash, workers become especially vulnerable to abuses. If they suddenly must find alternative accommodation they may have very little money in pocket. Consequently workers often remain in abusive situations that they may otherwise have chosen to escape.

The effective cash wages of domestic workers are therefore closely linked with their working time and the proportion of the wage paid in kind. Domestic workers earning a monthly salary equivalent to other workers may still earn a comparatively low salary if they are in reality working a 60-hour week. As such, minimum wage protections should ideally be accompanied by limits on working time and a right to compensation for overtime.

Policy-makers may also consider having separate wage rates for live-in and live-out workers. When there is a common practice of paying a high proportion of the wage in kind, the wage rate should still be set such that workers receive sufficient payment in cash to be able to provide for their future financial well-being as well as for their own families. Policy-makers may also consider prohibiting in-kind payments as part of the minimum wage, with payments in kind only allowed above this threshold (see Technical Notes 1, 2 & 3).

1 ILO (2013). Domestic workers across the world: Global and regional statistics and the extent of legal protection, (Geneva, ILO).
2 ibid
3 ILO, Domestic Workers in the Philippines: Profile and Working Conditions (Geneva, ILO).
4 ILO (2013). Domestic workers across the world: Global and regional statistics and the extent of legal protection, (Geneva, ILO). p.61.
5 ibid. p.63