Advancing Decent Work for Domestic Workers

TECHNICAL COOPERATION PROJECT. The work of caring and cleaning in the employer’s home for pay, one of the most important occupations for millions of women around the world, is precarious, low-paid, and unprotected, as it is often excluded totally or in part from the scope of labour law. If decent work is to become a reality for these workers, national laws and enforcement mechanisms must identify and address the specific characteristics of domestic work. In 2011, the ILO is expected to adopt new, specific international labour standards on domestic work.

This project aims to contribute towards better and more equitable living and working conditions for domestic workers, through improved international and national norms and policies in this domain.

To this end, the project will:

    facilitate the well-informed participation of ILO's constituents in the standard-setting process towards the adoption of international labour standards on domestic work, and the promotion of the implementation of the adopted standards;

    provide capacity-building and technical assistance at national level to concerned stakeholders (in a broad range of areas, e.g. drafting labour legislation; collecting relevant statistical data, designing well-suited organization strategies etc.; and

    assist workers’ and employers’ organizations in addressing domestic work.

This two year-project will act at the global, regional and national levels in a mutually-reinforcing fashion. National action will focus on selected countries with a proven political willingness to improve the status of these workers.

Problem analysis

Paid domestic work is a source of employment for millions of workers across the world, and the demand for it has been increasing steadily both in developing and industrialized countries. This growth is due to the massive and steady incorporation of women in the labour force, the ageing of societies, the intensification of work and changes in work organization, the feminization of labour migration and the lack or inadequacy of policy measures to facilitate the reconciliation of family life and work. The widening of income inequalities, including in former socialist countries, has been another powerful push factor. This has contributed to the creation of the so-called global care chain which sees women from the South migrating for labour to the North or to richer destinations in the South to enable other women to remain in paid work.

Domestic workers typically have a woman’s face, although men may also work as gardeners, butlers, drivers or security guards. These workers either belong to historically disadvantaged and despised communities such as minority ethnic groups, indigenous peoples, low-casts, low-income rural and urban groups, or are migrants. While the educational endowments of national domestic workers are usually low, migrant domestic workers tend to be more educated, suggesting the non-availability of alternative job opportunities in their home countries. In developing countries, it is not uncommon for children and young workers to work as domestic workers.

Domestic work is “invisible”, undervalued and poorly regulated. Since it is carried out in private households, not contributing to profit-generation, and entailing a significant degree of proximity and intimacy with the employer, it remains virtually invisible as a form of employment in many countries. Domestic workers are usually depicted as being “part of the family”, and their work is not regarded as “real” work as it mirrors work historically performed by women without remuneration. As a result, domestic work is often invisible in employment statistics or in national accounts and excluded totally or in part from the formal protection of national labour law and social security regimes-both in industrialized and developing countries.

Project strategy

Despite their significant contribution to national social and economic development, little is known about their numbers and profile, and trends concerning the employment arrangements in which they are involved. Equally limited is the knowledge about the type of norms and enforcement mechanisms best suited to the nature of and the context in which domestic work takes place. Filling this knowledge gap is essential in order to inform the ILO’s current process of international labour standard setting on domestic work and to guide national policy in interested countries.

This project will seek to address this gap by strengthening the knowledge base on reliable and comparable statistical information on trends in domestic work and the effective regulation of domestic work, through comparative research, and by documenting and promoting the exchange of innovative, interesting experiences and good practices across regions.

This project will rely on:

  • A global component which will be focusing on knowledge-creation and knowledge-sharing, awareness-raising and consensus-building;
  • One institution-building components for workers’ and employers’ organizations; and
  • National-level interventions aimed at institution-building and labour law reform in few, selected countries.