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Protecting Migrant Domestic Workers: The international legal framework

Protecting Migrant Domestic Workers: The international legal framework

by IDWFED published Apr 07, 2016 12:00 AM
Contributors: ILO
Global Action Programme on Migrant Domestic Workers - Research series in support of June 2016 project report release. Based on a report elaborated by Elisa Menegatti.

Resource Type

Research reports, working paper



Worldwide, an estimated 67 million people over the age  of  15  are  domestic  workers.  Of  those,  83  per  cent are women. Among the world’s domestic workers, many millions have migrated from their homes to another country for work.

Due  to  the  fact  that  domestic  work  is  carried  out  in  the  employer’s  house  and  to  the  nature  of  the  tasks performed, it is often associated with women’s unpaid work. Most domestic work remains informal, performed  outside  of  labour  and  social  protection  regulations.  Non-compliance  is  decreasing  but  still  high. Domestic  work  remains  one  of  the  least  protected sectors  under  national  labour  laws  and  it  suffers  from  particularly  poor  monitoring  and  implementation  of  existing  laws.

Migrant  domestic  workers  (MDWs)  are even less protected by the law. Migrant domestic  workers  are  vulnerable  to  human  rights  abuses,  due  to  inequalities  determined  by  gender,  race, ethnicity, national origin and social status. Non-payment  or  retention  of  wages,  long  working  hours,  contract  substitutions,  passport  retentions,  violations  of  human  dignity  and  fundamental  freedoms,  degrading  treatment  and  violence,  forced  labour  and  trafficking  for  labour  exploitation  in  the  worst  cases,  are  common  violations  suffered  by  these  workers.  The  situation  is  critical  particularly  for MDWs with irregular or undocumented migration status or those who live and work in the household of the employer.

MDWs  (especially  if  they  are  “live-in  workers”)  can  face  specific  language  and  cultural  barriers  to  access  information  on  the  legislation  and  socio-cultural characteristics of the country of destination.

They tend to be isolated from other employees and service  providers,  they  often  have  limited  access  to  communication  devices,  like  mobile  phones  or  Internet to communicate with their families, and are restricted in their freedom of movement.

Migrant  domestic  workers  are  at  the  crossroads  of  two sovereign countries, which often have different or  even  divergent  interests  and  regulatory  frameworks with regard to domestic workers and migrant workers.

Private  recruitment  agencies’  role  in  the  migration  process has significantly grown in the past decade. Lack  of  appropriate  regulation  and  supervision  has  led to increasing reports of exploitation and abuses of  migrant  domestic  workers.  Abusive  practices  include:  deception  regarding  conditions  of  work,  charging unauthorized fees to workers, and retention of identity documents, perpetrated by unscrupulous recruitment  agencies  and  informal  intermediaries  operating outside of legal and regulatory frameworks.


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