ILO to standardise domestic worker labour standards
The government, worker and employer delegates at the 100th annual
Conference of the International Labour Organization (ILO) on Thursday
June 16 adopted a historic set of international standards aimed at
improving the working conditions of tens of millions of domestic workers
“We are moving the standards system of the ILO into the informal
economy for the first time, and this is a breakthrough of great
significance,” ILO Director-General Juan Somavia said. “History is being
Conference delegates adopted the Convention on Domestic Workers
(2011) by a vote of 396 to 16, with 63 abstentions and the accompanying
Recommendation by a vote of 434 to 8, with 42 abstentions.
The ILO is the only tripartite organization of the UN, and each of
its 183 Member States is represented by two government delegates and one
employer and one worker delegate, with an independent vote. The two
standards will be the 189th Convention and the supplementing 201st
Recommendation adopted by the labour Organization since it was created
The Convention is an international treaty that is binding on Member
States that ratify it, while the Recommendation provides more detailed
guidance on how to apply the Convention.
The new ILO standards set out that domestic workers around the world
who care for families and households, must have the same basic labour
rights as those available to other workers: reasonable hours of work,
weekly rest of at least 24 consecutive hours, a limit on in-kind
payment, clear information on terms and conditions of employment, as
well as respect for fundamental principles and rights at work including
among others freedom of association and the right to collective
bargaining. Recent ILO estimates based on national surveys and censuses
of 117 countries place the number of domestic workers at a minimum of 53
million, but experts say there could be 100 million in the world,
considering that this kind of work is often hidden and unregistered. In
developing countries, they make up at least 4 to 12 percent of wage
Around 83 percent of these workers are women or girls and many are
The Convention defines domestic work as work performed in or for a
household or households.
While the new instruments cover all domestic workers, they provide
for special measures to protect those workers who, because of their
young age or nationality or live-in status, may be exposed to additional
risks relative to their peers, among others.
According to ILO proceedings, the new Convention will come into force
after two countries have ratified it.
“Bringing the domestic workers into the fold of our values is a
strong move, for them and for all workers who aspire to decent work, but
it also has strong implications for migration and of course for gender
equality,” Somavia said.
In the introductory text, the new Convention says that “domestic work
continues to be undervalued and invisible and is mainly carried out by
women and girls, many of whom are migrants or members of disadvantaged
communities and who are particularly vulnerable to discrimination in
respect of conditions of employment and work, and to other abuses of
Executive Director of UN Women Michelle Bachelet in her address to
the Conference Committee, said that the deficit of decent work among
domestic workers “can no longer be tolerated,” adding that UN Women
would support the process of ratification and application of the new ILO
“We need effective and binding standards to provide decent work to
our domestic workers, a clear framework to guide governments, employers
and workers,” said Halimah Yacob, the Workers Vice-Chair from Singapore.
She noted that the collective responsibility was to provide domestic
workers with what they lacked most: recognition as workers; and respect
and dignity as human beings. Paul MacKay from New Zealand, the Employers
Vice-Chair declared: “We all agree on the importance of bringing
domestic work into the mainstream and responding to serious human rights
concerns. All employers agree there are opportunities to do better by
domestic workers and the households and families for whom they work”.
“Social dialogue has found its reflection in the results achieved
here,” concluded the Chair of the Committee, H.L. Cacdac, Government
delegate from the Philippines, when he closed the discussion.
“This is a truly major achievement,” said Manuela Tomei, Director of
the ILO’s Conditions of Work and Employment Programme, calling the new
standards “robust, yet flexible.” Tomei added that the new standards
make clear that “domestic workers are neither servants nor ‘members of
the family’, but workers. And after today they can no longer be
considered second-class workers.” The adoption of the new standards is
the result of a decision taken in March 2008 by the ILO Governing Body
to place the elaboration of an instrument on the agenda of the
Conference. In 2010, the Conference held its first discussion and
decided to proceed with the drafting of a Convention supplemented by a
Recommendation adopted today.
Geneva (ILO News)