Domestic Workers

Globally, there are almost 76 million domestic workers, 76 per cent of whom are women1. Their work consists of cleaning, cooking, and taking care of children and the elderly in private households. However, domestic work is often characterized by unsafe and abusive working conditions, low (or no) wages, extremely long hours, no rest days or holidays, and a lack of benefits and social protection. These poor conditions are further compounded for migrant domestic workers and child domestic workers due to particular vulnerabilities inherent to those sub-sectors.
“I have been a domestic worker for 25 years. They say I am ‘part of the family’ but I cannot eat at the same table as them. Those of us assembled here, we know the experience. We are organizing: we hold workshops, educate workers about their rights, what they can get, for example the minimum wage. Now, we in NUDE are setting up a cooperative to employ domestic workers, so that our rights will be in our hands. It is time to emancipate ourselves from slavery.”

Gillian Atwell

from the National Union of Domestic Employees (NUDE), Trinidad and Tobago

Domestic Workers and the challenges they face

Domestic work is characterized by lower wages, fewer benefits, and less legal or social protections than other workers. Domestic workers typically work extremely long hours, without holidays or rest days. In many cases, in fact, domestic workers are forbidden to leave or live outside of the workplace. They rarely have written contracts. Health care, pensions, maternity leave and sick leave are seldom available. Access to maternity leave, health care or pension provisions are virtually non-existent2. In many countries, domestic workers are excluded from labour laws benefiting other workers, or, if such laws do exist, they do not have access to remedy when the laws are not enforced. This is further compounded by the fact that the workplaces in question are private homes, which tend to be extremely difficult to regulate regardless of whether protective laws exist or not. Generally speaking, working conditions for domestic workers fall well below acceptable labour standards for other categories of workers.3
Migrant domestic workers are particularly vulnerable to workplace abuse and sub-par working conditions. There are no significant protections that follow the migrant worker from their sending country. Lack of status in destination countries adds further barriers to their access to benefits and rights remedies under national laws 4. The migrant domestic worker is usually dependent on their employer’s approval in order to maintain their immigration status, and are often subject to even more dramatic isolation and abuse than their national counterparts. Further, if a contract exists, it is often between a placement agency and the employer, increasing the level of disenfranchisement and access to rights for the worker herself.

[1] For a more comprehensive discussion of domestic work, see ILO, 2021, “Making decent work a reality for domestic workers: Progress and prospects ten years after the adoption of the Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189)”.–en/index.htm

[2] “Domestic Workers.” Domestic Workers. WIEGO, n.d. Web.

[3] Ramirez-Machado, José Maria. “A Brief History of Long Work Time and the Contemporary Sources of Overwork.” Domestic Work, Conditions of Work and Employment: A Legal Perspective 7th ser. Conditions of Work and Employment Series (2003): 64. ILO. Web.—ed_protect/—protrav/—travail/documents/publication/wcms_travail_pub_7.pdf.

[4]4 Alter Chen, Martha, Joann Vanek, Francie Lund, James Heintz, Renana Jhabvala, and Christine Bonner. Progress of the World’s Women 2005: Women, Work, & Poverty. New York, NY: United Nations Development Fund for Women, 2005: 97. UN Women. UNIFEM. Web.

Child domestic workers form another subset of this sector that is particularly vulnerable. Typical daily risks for the child domestic worker include long hours, hazardous conditions, insufficient or inadequate food and accommodation, and humiliating or degrading treatment including physical and verbal violence, and sexual abuse5. Further, in many cases domestic work prohibits the child’s ability to attend school
Globally, the wages of domestic workers are only about 56 per cent of those of non-domestic employees, with domestic workers in developing countries earning less than one-third of what non-domestic employees do.

Around 80 per cent of domestic workers are informal; 79 per cent of women domestic workers and 87 per cent of men are informal.

Read More

Florence Bonnet, Françoise Carré and Joann Vanek. Domestic Workers in the World: A Statistical Profile. WIEGO Statistical Brief No. 32

[5]7 “Child Labour and Domestic Work.” ILO. International Labour Organization, n.d. Web.–en/index.htm

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