Domestic Work Policy Brief no. 10

Formalizing domestic work

This document is part of a series of briefs on issues and approaches to promoting decent work for domestic workers.

Over half the world’s workforce is estimated to be in the informal economy. While informality and many of its causes affect sectors across national economies, informal employment may be concentrated in particular sectors, with sector-specific forms and drivers. Domestic work is one such sector: it is characterised by a high incidence of informal arrangements and contributes significantly to informality, especially among women. The ILO estimates that there are 67 million domestic workers, aged 15 years and older, worldwide (ILO, 2015c). 50 million of these are estimated to be in informal employment, making it one of the sectors with the highest share of informal employment. Domestic work is also a sector that is poised to grow: with the aging of the population, continually increasing rates of female labour participation, and a preference for home-based care for the elderly and chronically ill (Eurofound, 2013), families are increasingly turning to domestic workers to care for their homes, children, and ageing relatives.

Domestic work has three particular characteristics within the informal economy: the employment relationship takes place within the private sphere, the household; it can be blurred or disguised by social norms and highly personalised contexts; and it falls outside the conventional regulatory frameworks of many countries. Recommendation 204 calls on Member States to pay special attention to domestic workers, as one group that is especially vulnerable to the most serious decent work deficits in the informal economy (para 7i). This policy brief explains the principle drivers of formality and informality in the domestic work sector, and presents country-level approaches to formalizing domestic work, including punitive and enabling measures.