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Working conditions

Longest, most unpredictable hours – the plight of the domestic worker

Despite legislation limiting working time in most countries, domestic workers are amongst the least protected and suffer health issues as a result.

News | 09 January 2013
GENEVA (ILO News) – The working hours of domestic workers are amongst the longest and most unpredictable of all groups of workers.

Domestic workers often excluded from statutory working time limitation
ILO's Martin Oelz, Legal Specialist on Working Conditions
A study by the International Labour Organization (ILO) found that their hours significantly outstripped those of the general population. Citing national labour force surveys, the study says that average hours of domestic workers reached nearly 66 hours a week in Malaysia and between 60 and 65 hours a week in Qatar, Namibia, Tanzania and Saudi Arabia.

But many domestic workers are exposed to much longer working hours in practice – and this despite the fact that virtually all countries have set general statutory limits on working time of between 40 and 48 hours a week.

The report, Domestic workers across the world: Global and regional statistics and the extent of legal protection, said that long hours have a negative impact on health, quality of work and quality of life. 

Because very often no distinction is made between working hours and non-working hours, the notion of overtime does not exist, and work in excess of the normal hours is not remunerated at all."
“Long working hours, night working and patterns of shift work that involve an irregular distribution of working hours are among the factors that have the greatest negative effects on workers’ health. They carry especially important risks for women during and after pregnancy and for young workers,” ILO domestic work specialist, Amelita King-Dejardin said.

Long working hours are especially common among live-in workers – many of them migrants – who are expected to be available at all times of day or night. They are often paid a flat fee without their hours being stipulated.

Permanent availability

'Living-in' domestic workers severely exposed to hard working hours
Such arrangements are based on the assumption that the worker is available whenever the employer needs them.

“Because very often no distinction is made between working hours and non-working hours, the notion of overtime does not exist, and work in excess of the normal hours is not remunerated at all. By contrast, live-out domestic workers usually have a clearer separation between working hours and non-working hours,” King-Dejardin explained.

Although live-out domestic workers have more control over their time, many still work long hours because they do multiple jobs to augment their weekly earnings.

Most countries have a maximum time limit on hours of work, and guarantee weekly rest and annual leave but domestic workers are often exempted from national legislation or are covered by less favourable standards than other workers.

More than half of all domestic workers have no limitation on their weekly normal hours of work and about 45 per cent have no entitlement to weekly rest periods or paid annual leave.

The ILO’s Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No.189),   which will come into force in September 2013, sets a standard for equal treatment between domestic and general workers in relation to weekly normal hours of work, rest periods and annual leave.

More than 45% of domestic workers worldwide still not entitled to a day off per week
Several countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa and the industrialised world have already extended to domestic workers the same minimum protections that apply to workers generally, but the report says that much more needs to be done, particularly in Asia and the Middle East.