International Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers Adopted

Millions of domestic workers worldwide to be protected by new labour standard

GENEVA, (ILO News) – The government, worker and employer delegates at the 100th annual Conference of the International Labour Organization (ILO) today adopted a historic set of international standards aimed at improving the working conditions of tens of millions of domestic workers worldwide.

“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,” said Juan Somavia, ILO Director-General. “History is being made.”

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.

Shortly after the vote on the convention, Robert Shepard, Director of the Office of International Affairs for the U.S. Department of Labor, stated that “this goes a long way to providing domestic workers formal protection through standards and helps promote the notion that they deserve the same protection as all other workers.”

Mr. Shepard pointed to the fact that although this is the first time domestic workers will be protected by an international convention “there are already some states, like California and New York, that have initiated efforts to provide protection to domestic workers.”

In New York State, the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, signed by then Governor Patterson on August 31, 2010, guarantees basic work standards and protections for the nannies, caregivers, and housekeepers who were previously excluded from most labor protections.

Recent ILO estimates based on national surveys and/or 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 countr ies, they make up at least 4 to 12 per cent of wage employment. Around 83 per cent of these workers are women or girls and many are migrant workers.

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.

“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,” Mr. Somavia said.

“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.” Ms. 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.”

According to ILO proceedings, the new Convention will come into force after it has been ratified by two countries.