Asia leads world in domestic worker numbers, but legal protection, working conditions lag

More than 21 million people across Asia and the Pacific – 80 per cent of them women – are employed as domestic workers, according to a new report by the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Press release | Geneva, Switzerland | 09 January 2013
BANGKOK (ILO News) – More than 21 million people across Asia and the Pacific – 80 per cent of them women – are employed as domestic workers, according to a new report by the International Labour Organization (ILO).

But although Asia Pacific has more domestic workers than any other part of the world, the report found that the region lags other regions in guaranteeing domestic workers the basic work-related rights and protections that other workers have, in particular related to working time, minimum wages and maternity protection. Only domestic workers in the Middle East (many of whom are migrants from Asia) have weaker legal entitlements.

The report, Domestic workers across the world, estimates that 52.6 million people worldwide – more than four out of five of them women – are employed as domestic workers, a group equivalent to the entire working population of Viet Nam.

Of these, 21.5 million (41 per cent) domestic workers are in Asia Pacific and 19.6 million (37 per cent) in Latin America and the Caribbean. In Asia Pacific one in thirteen (7.8 per cent) of all women with a waged job were domestic workers in 2010.
Despite the significant numbers of people involved, the report found large differences between the rights and conditions experienced by domestic employees and other waged workers, particularly in Asia.

According to the report only three per cent of Asia’s domestic workers are entitled to a weekly day of rest, whereas globally more than half of domestic workers have this right. In addition, only one per cent of domestic workers in Asia Pacific have statutory limits to their normal maximum weekly working hours; by contrast, more than three-quarters of their counterparts in Latin America enjoy such protection.

Just 12 per cent of domestic workers in Asia Pacific are covered by statutory minimum wage legislation. Only the Middle East has lower coverage. In all other regions of the world more than six out of seven domestic workers can expect to be paid at least the minimum wage.

For maternity leave and maternity cash benefits, 76 per cent of Asia Pacific’s domestic workers have no entitlement. By contrast, in Latin America – which has almost the same number of domestic workers – all such workers qualify for maternity leave and a large majority for related benefits.
Domestic workers make important contribution to national economies

“Excluding domestic workers from basic labour protection reflects an out-dated view that domestic work is somehow not real work”, said Malte Luebker, a Senior Specialist at the ILO’s Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific and a principal author of the report. “We must recognize that domestic workers don’t just care for families, but create value for the economy by allowing more workers, often with valuable skills, to leave the house and take up paid work. Domestic workers clearly deserve a better deal”.

Domestic work sector grows rapidly in Asia, but basic labour protections are often missing
The report’s publication follows the adoption of a new ILO Convention and Recommendation on domestic work in June 2011. These new international standards aim to ensure decent working conditions and pay for domestic workers worldwide. Three countries (Mauritius, the Philippines and Uruguay) have already ratified the Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189), which is due to enter into force in September 2013, while others have begun the process.

“The Convention sets a new global benchmark which countries can use to assess their own legislation”, said Yoshiteru Uramoto, ILO Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific . “It’s very encouraging that some Asian countries, such as Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore, are moving in the right direction with labour reforms. But this report makes it clear that more action is needed, by more countries”.

The report, which was launched at the ILO’s Geneva headquarters, also found that number of domestic workers has grown significantly in the past 15 years (from 33.2 million in 1995). Within Asia, the greatest numbers of domestic workers are found in India (4.2 million), Indonesia (2.4 million) and the Philippines (1.9 million). All the figures in the report exclude an estimated 7.4 million children (aged below 15 years) engaged in domestic work.

The report is based on data from 117 countries and territories, including 18 in Asia Pacific. A limited amount of information from China is also included.

Click here for the report and relevant information.

For more information please contact:

Krisdaporn Singhaseni,
Information Officer, ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific
Tel + 66 (0) 2 288 1664

ILO Newsroom & Department of Communication and Public Information
Tel: + 41 22 799-7912