October 28, 2013

Introduction

The [convention and recommendation] before us are robust, practical, and human, and they hold tremendous potential for bringing domestic workers out of the shadows. They give faces to these workers who have been invisible for so long.
—Toni Moore, worker delegate from Barbados, at the adoption of the Domestic Workers Convention at the International Labor Conference, June 2011

On September 5, 2013, the ILO Convention Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers (Domestic Workers Convention or C189) entered into legal force. This groundbreaking new treaty and its accompanying Recommendation (No. 201) establish the first global standards for the more than 50 million domestic workers worldwide—the majority of whom are women and girls, and many of whom are migrants—who clean, cook, and care for children and elderly in private households.

The Domestic Workers Convention provides desperately needed and long overdue protections for domestic workers and represents a significant breakthrough in human rights, including labor rights, women’s rights, and children’s rights. Despite the critical role that domestic workers play in providing key care services to households— including cooking, cleaning, child care, and elder care—they have been routinely excluded from standard labor protections. According to the ILO, almost 30 percent of the world’s domestic workers are employed in countries where they are completely excluded from national labor laws.[1]

Under the new convention, domestic workers are entitled to the same basic rights as those available to other workers, including weekly days off, limits to hours of work, minimum wage coverage, overtime compensation, social security, and clear information on the terms and conditions of employment. The new standards oblige governments that ratify the convention to protect domestic workers from violence and abuse, to regulate private employment agencies that recruit and employ domestic workers, and to prevent child labor in domestic work.

The ratification and implementation of the Domestic Workers Convention and the application of its accompanying Recommendation will promote dignity and decent work for tens of millions of domestic workers around the globe.[2] As of September 2013, ten countries had officially ratified C189 and completed ratification formalities with the ILO, while four more countries are completing these processes. Dozens more are considering ratification or amending their national laws to increase protections for domestic workers.

The growing global domestic workers movement—comprised of domestic worker organizations, trade unions, and civil society groups including migrants’ rights and children’s rights groups, human rights advocates, and others—was a driving force behind the tripartite negotiation (involving representatives of workers, employers, and governments) and the adoption of the Domestic Workers Convention. Trade unions and civil society engaged with governments and employers’ groups resistant to the Convention with solid arguments and information that overcame objections to strong, binding standards and ensured that the Convention addressed key threats to domestic workers’ rights and safety. Governments committed to domestic workers’ rights and those with existing legislative frameworks that protect those rights played an invaluable role in ensuring strong global standards through the Domestic Workers Convention.

Diverse domestic workers’ rights movements, operating at the grassroots, national, and regional levels, have been campaigning to raise awareness of domestic workers’ rights, strengthen labor organizing efforts, lobby for reforms at the local and national level, and expand services and avenues for redress. Trade unions helped place C189 and domestic workers’ rights high on the tripartite agenda and in several countries negotiated collective bargaining agreements, winning tangible protections for domestic workers.  

This joint report charts government advances in labor law reform and the growing influence of emerging domestic workers’ rights movements. It explores innovative strategies used by activists around the world to achieve progress, and identifies challenges moving ahead. The report reviews national legal reforms that took place between 2011 and 2013.

The report is co-produced by the International Domestic Workers’ Network (IDWN), the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and Human Rights Watch (HRW). Domestic workers and representatives of civil society groups from 20 countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East contributed to this report through questionnaires and interviews.

[1] International Labor Organization (ILO), Domestic Workers across the World: Global and Regional Statistics and the Extent of Legal Protection (Geneva: ILO, 2013), http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---dgreports/---dcomm/---publ/documents/publication/wcms_173363.pdf (accessed September 25, 2013), p. 50.

[2] ILO Convention No. 189 concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers (Domestic Workers Convention), adopted June 16, 2011, entered into force September 5, 2013, http://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:12100:0::NO::P12100_ILO_CODE:C189 (accessed October 4, 2013), art 3(3); R201 - Domestic Workers Recommendation, 2011 (No. 201), http://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:12100:0::NO:12100:P12100_INSTRUMENT_ID:2551502:NO (accessed October 4, 2013). ILO Recommendations serve as further guidance to states and are non-binding.