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Reducing inequalities

ILO: Domestic workers should have the right to rest

ILO publication says domestic workers should enjoy the same right to sufficient rest as other workers.

Analysis | 04 April 2016
© UN Women/Pornvit Visitoran
GENEVA (ILO News) – More than half of domestic workers worldwide still do not have any legal right to weekly limits on working hours. The International Labour Organization (ILO) is now advocating to ensure the right to sufficient rest for domestic workers.

A ILO fact sheet shows the grim reality faced by many domestic workers throughout the world, regarding time spent working. It especially focuses on the difficult conditions experienced by live-in domestic workers who, in some countries, work more than 60 hours per week with no legislation regulating their right for adequate rest.

ILO experts stress the negative impacts on health for domestic workers working excessively long hours with little or no rest, sometimes combined with insufficient and interrupted sleep. They note research showing it can lead to the increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and depression, to mention only a few.

They point out that physical and mental fatigue resulting from working excessive hours not only affects workers’ ability to perform their tasks but can also lead to increased risks of workplace accidents.

“Working long hours makes it difficult for domestic workers to maintain proper work-life balance,” the authors of the fact sheet added.

On call 24 hours a day

The ILO publication shines light on the difficult situations experienced by live-in domestic workers, who are often expected to be available 24 hours a day to respond to various needs of their employers.

“Not even an uninterrupted nightly rest is guaranteed for live-in domestic workers, especially those with care responsibilities for children, elders, sick or disabled family members, whose sleep is often interrupted to provide unscheduled care in addition to their daily tasks,” it says.

“Domestic workers are a prominent example of groups of workers who still lack this essential human right which is the right to rest,” explains Philippe Marcadent, Chief of the ILO’s Inclusive Labour Markets, Labour Relations and Working Conditions Branch.

“Regulating working time for domestic workers can be complex due the fact their workplace is often a private home. The Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No 189) has been a major step forward to improve domestic workers’ rights,” he adds.

Respecting the “11/24 rule”

Pursuant to Convention No. 189, domestic workers should benefit from equal treatment as compared to other workers in respect of working time, including the right to rest. A minimum of 24 consecutive hours of weekly rest should be guaranteed to them.

One basis for improvement could be to use guidance provided by the EU Directive on working time that has set a minimum standard of 11 consecutive hours of daily rest. Introducing this “11/24 rule” at the national level could be a first step towards effective protection of domestic workers’ right to rest.

The ILO publication includes an infographic also provides other examples of good practice. For instance in Chile, live-in domestic workers now have a right to 12 hours daily rest, of which 9 need to be consecutive, and both Saturday and Sunday off. Working hours of domestic workers living outside their employers’ home are limited to 45 hours per week, with a maximum of 6 working days.

The ILO is currently conducting research into good practices at the national level. It should lead to the publication of a policy brief with concrete suggestions on ways to effectively protect the right to rest for domestic workers.

Improving national domestic work laws and practices

In an effort to improve national domestic work laws and practices, in 2011 the ILO adopted the Domestic Workers Convention (No. 189) and Domestic workers Recommendation (No. 201) .

The two have become the most important instruments in terms of basic principles and minimum labour standards for the sector.

As of April 2016, ILO Convention No 189 had been ratified by 22 countries.