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Rights of domestic workers

New ILO policy brief calls for domestic workers to be included in care policies to ensure their rights at work

Domestic workers play an integral and increasing role in care provision but lack access to labour rights and social protection. Governments and social partners need to act.

News | 08 March 2024
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GENEVA (ILO News) – On International Women’s Day the ILO has issued a new policy brief urging governments, workers’ and employers’ organizations to ensure domestic workers have access to labour rights and social protection.

Publication of From global care crisis to quality at home: The case for including domestic workers in care policies and ensuring their rights at work, comes at a time of growing global demand for paid care, with an increasing number of countries facing a care crisis due to large unmet care needs and ageing populations.

The ILO estimates that women account for three quarters of the 75.6 million domestic workers globally. Given the disproportionate presence of women, the rights of domestic workers are key to the achievement of gender equality. In the face of significant labour shortages, countries are looking to improve female labour market participation, which is often dependent on the existence of sufficient quality care services. This requires, among other factors, that care jobs, including domestic work, are of a sufficient quality to attract jobseekers.

Domestic workers, hired either directly by a household or through a public or private service provider, play an integral role in care provision.

Even when only counting those employed directly by households, domestic workers account for at least 25 per cent of all paid care workers, including nurses, teachers, doctors and personal care workers. The share of domestic workers among care workers however is much higher in countries with little investment in the care sector.

Yet domestic workers often do not have access to labour rights and social protection, and they lack access to care rights and services for themselves and their families, for instance maternity protection, child benefits, childcare and long-term care services.

These gaps in protection and access to services are more pronounced among domestic workers who face multiple forms of discrimination, based on migration status and ethnic or indigenous origin.

To ensure domestic workers enjoy decent work and access to care within the framework of national care policies, the new policy brief urges governments, workers’ and employers’ organizations to:
  • recognize domestic workers as care workers and including them as care providers within national care policies and social security systems.
  • ensure labour rights, social protection and access to care services that meet the needs of domestic workers, including by ratifying and implementing Convention No. 189.
  • recognize the skills of domestic workers, and ensure adequate remuneration and other benefits.
  • raise awareness of the critical role that domestic workers play in caring – directly and indirectly – for children, older persons, persons with disabilities in need of support, and those in need of long-term care.
  • make use of the ILO’s Road to Decent Work for Domestic Workers when adopting care policies.
  • ensure that the voices of domestic workers and employers of domestic workers are included in social dialogue.
The number of people in need of care is estimated to rise further in the coming years, in part due to increased life expectancy.

The ILO estimates that by 2030, 1.9 billion children under the age of 15 and 200 million older persons at or above the age of healthy life expectancy, will be in need of care. This represents a combined increase of 200 million people in need of care, compared to 2015.

In addition, the UN anticipates an increase in long-term care needs with the proportion of older persons (aged 60 or more) in the global population expected to rise from 13.5 per cent in 2020 to 21.4 per cent by 2050 and 28.2 per cent by 2100.

As a result of such demographic changes, the care economy is expected to grow in line with increased demand. If investment meets demand and guarantees decent work to care workers, the care economy could create an estimated 300 million jobs by 2035 and reduce gender inequalities.