Chapter 8: Minimum wages for domestic workers

8.11 Hourly or monthly minimum wage rates for domestic workers

In principle, minimum wages can be set for an hour of work, a week of work, or a month of work (see section 1.8 for a review).

Domestic workers are often in a situation of partial legal coverage – they are covered by minimum wage legislation, but not by working time provisions. 56.6 per cent are excluded from limits on working time worldwide. Regardless of legislation, live-in domestic workers typically work on average far longer hours than other workers, sometimes with no clear indication of when they are on a break or free to dispose of their time as they please.

In Chile, for instance, live-out domestic workers worked an average of 40 hours per week in 2000, while live-in domestic workers worked an average of 67.6 hours. Similarly, in Peru the average weekly working time was 49 hours for live-out domestic workers and 62 hours for live-in domestic workers.

As a result, a monthly minimum wage may not correspond to the number of hours actually worked by a domestic worker, making their pro rata hourly minimum wage significantly lower than that received by other workers who work a standard work week.

In light of this, the first step to setting a minimum wage for domestic workers is to determine:

1.    Whether domestic workers are covered by working time provisions.
2.    The proportion of domestic workers who live in the homes of their employers, and those who live out.

Once those answers are identified, they can be used to set the minimum wage using the appropriate unit or units (hourly, monthly, weekly, daily).

Hourly minimum wages:

Hourly minimum wages provide the most flexible approach to minimum wage setting, irrespective of whether a domestic worker lives in or out. They:
  • Ensure equal treatment between live-in and live-out domestic workers.
  • Ensure that workers are paid for the hours for which they actually work, as opposed to the assumed standard work week. This is especially relevant if certain groups of workers are entitled to the minimum wage, but not covered by working time provisions (normal hours of work, daily rest, weekly rest or overtime).
  • Require careful monitoring to record the number of hours worked. 1

However, while an hourly minimum wage may be practical in countries where live-out domestic work is common, setting an hourly minimum wage in countries where live-in domestic work is predominant can prove challenging because of the “standby” or “on-call” nature of the work. Standby or on-call periods refer to “periods during which domestic workers are not free to dispose of their time as they please and remain at the disposal of the household in order to respond to possible calls…”, according to Convention No. 189. 2

While standby time is considered working time – as opposed to a rest period – it is often remunerated at a rate lower than for a normal hour of work, and can be difficult for both employers and domestic workers to monitor. To address these concerns, some countries have devised specific practices to set the minimum wage such as to ensure equal treatment. These are some examples.

Monthly minimum wages:

Some countries have a monthly minimum wage with a separate standard work week that more accurately reflects the standard work week of a live-in domestic worker.

  • This is the case in Burkina Faso where domestic workers’ working time is regulated by a special scheme. For workers under the general scheme, the standard work week is 40 hours. However, under the special scheme, week for domestic workers is 60 hours of work.
  • This is also the case in Senegal where the standard working month for domestic workers is 260 hours (60 hours per week), of which 173.33 represent hours of effective work. Overtime is only to be paid for hours that exceed 60 hours per week. In other words, the domestic worker receives the monthly minimum wage for working between 40 and 60 hours per week.
Other countries have a minimum wage that includes separate rates of pay for standby time:

  • Czech Republic: the worker is entitled to remuneration of at least 10 per cent of their average earnings, unless it has been agreed otherwise in the relevant collective agreement regarding standby time.3
  • Finland: in cases where workers are obliged by contract to remain at home in order to be available if they are called to work comprising child minding or care of a sick family member or another member of the household, no less than half such standby time shall count as working hours or such standby shall be remunerated [at at least half the worker’s basic wage payable for an equal number of hours].4
  • Spain: in any case, except for where it has been agreed that the worker will be compensated with rest periods in lieu, standby time shall not exceed an average of 20 hours per week in any given month, and shall be remunerated at least at the same rate as normal hours of work.5
  • France: there is regulation of what is known as “hours of responsible presence”, which is different from “night presence”. The former are defined as “those during which the employee can use his or her time for himself or herself, while being ready to intervene if necessary”. The latter is defined as “compatible with a daytime job, refers to the obligation for the employee to sleep on site in a separate room, not actually working, but being ready to intervene if necessary as part of his or her duties. Night presence cannot exceed 12 hours. It shall not be requested more than five consecutive nights, except in exceptional cases.”6
While one “hour of responsible presence” counts for two-thirds of the wage normally paid for one hour of work, one hour of “night presence” is remunerated at no lower than one-sixth of the normal rate of hourly pay. If several interventions are needed at night, all night hours are considered hours of responsible presence.

A third group of countries have a monthly minimum wage based on the minimum rest period.

Instead of regulating standby time and hours of work, the monthly minimum wage can be set by regulating rest. Once the minimum rest period is established, a monthly or weekly minimum wage is established for the remaining hours. For example, in the Philippines, domestic workers are entitled to eight hours of daily rest in addition to a 24-hour weekly rest. This is also the case in Chile where the domestic worker must rest for at least half an hour per day and daily rest should at least be 12 consecutive hours long.

Combining hourly and monthly minimum wages:

If countries have both live-in and live-out domestic workers, one approach is to set both an hourly and a monthly minimum wage.

For example, while the federal minimum wage for domestic workers in Switzerland is specified at the national level, the minimum wage specified in one of its cantons (states), Geneva, provides it at the monthly level alongside a formula to calculate the hourly rate for part-time domestic workers.7

The hourly rate is simply the monthly rate divided by 195 hours (which corresponds to a 45-hour work week). This approach is not limited to the domestic work sector – many countries use it to accommodate the different working hours of full- and part-time employees (see Technical Note 2).

1 ILO. 2014. Working around the clock? A manual for trainers to help live-in domestic workers count their working time. (Geneva, ILO).
2 Convention No. 189, Article 10(3); Recommendation No. 201, Paragraph 9(1).
3 ILO. 2012. Effective Protection for Domestic Workers: A guide to designing labour laws. (Geneva, ILO).
4 Ibid
5 Ibid
6 Ibid
7 Contrat-type de travail de l’économie domestique (CTT-Edom) in Switzerland.