Legal document

Domestic work is a professional job

A new decree will take effect in May, requiring employers to cover insurances for domestic workers, give them weekly rests and pay them no less than minimum wages.

News | 16 April 2014

Most of domestic workers are rural women. © ILO
HANOI (ILO News) – Detailed regulations on domestic work have been issued by the Government of Viet Nam, a move the ILO considers an important step to protect these workers.

“The adoption of the Decree on Domestic Workers in 2014 sends a strong message that domestic work, when truly decent, is a professional job, which brings substantive economic and social benefits to the families of employer households, domestic workers themselves, and the whole Vietnamese society,” said Nelien Haspels, Gender Specialist of the ILO Asia and the Pacific.

“It shows the explicit recognition of the Government that domestic work is vital for the effective functioning of labour markets everywhere by enabling women to engage in and retain productive employment outside their home.”

According to the new decree, which will take effect on 25 May, employers and domestic workers have to sign work contracts, in which the house helpers are entitled to at least 24 continuous hours off a week, 12 annual paid leave days and all public holidays.

Employers also have to cover compulsory social and medical insurance for domestic workers as stipulated by the Labour Code and are not allowed to pay them lower than the regional minimum wage.

As in other Asian countries, domestic work is on a rise in Viet Nam. Together with the expanding middle income class in the country, the number of jobs in “domestic work in households” is forecast to increase from 157,000 in 2008 to 246,000 by 2015, according to the National Centre for Forecast and Information on the Labour Market.

A joint research conducted by the ILO and the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs in 2011 showed that the majority of domestic workers in Hanoi and HCM City are women from the countryside.

It shows the explicit recognition of the Government that domestic work is vital for the effective functioning of labour markets everywhere by enabling women to engage in and retain productive employment outside their home."
Domestic workers mostly completed lower secondary school with almost no training for their job.

The living conditions for the non-live-in domestic workers and those taking care of sick people at hospitals are poor whereas the live-in ones had limited communication outside the family they work for.

The study also indicated that many domestic workers have to work overtime and “extremely long hours” and are likely to be exposed to sexual harassment and other forms of violence.

Therefore, the new decree, of which the drafting process was supported by the ILO, shows the “important signs of progress”, Haspels said.

However, she added that there remain some issues that will need to be resolved at some point. The decree, for instance, set the minimum rest hours for domestic workers at 6 consecutive hours and 2 additional hours per day, which implicates that their working hours could legally extend to 16 hours per day.

This contradicts the spirit of ILO Convention No 189 on Domestic Workers, which is geared at progressively achieving the same protection for domestic workers as for all other workers.

“The enforcement also poses future challenges,” Haspels said. “But most importantly, Viet Nam has joined other countries in starting to put in place the legal and political means to put its commitment to the protection of domestic workers into practice.”

There are at least 53 million domestic workers worldwide. The largest number resides in Asia, where 21.5 million people – or more than 40 per cent of the world’s figure – are employed by private households.

In Asia and the Pacific, the proportion of domestic workers covered by labour laws is lower than in other parts of the world. Only 3 per cent of them in the region is entitled to a weekly rest of at least 24 consecutive hours and annual leaves.

Domestic workers typically earn less than half of what is considered an average wage, and sometimes no more than one fifth of that average. Access to legal and social protection is another major challenge.

The ILO Domestic Workers Convention No 189 came into force in September 2013 and has been ratified by 13 member states, creating a strong momentum towards recognition that domestic workers are entitled to full labour rights and not “second class” workers.