Domestic Workers Worldwide Lack Legal Protections (Two Takes)
A new report by a U.N. labor agency finds poor working
conditions and insufficient protections plague
By Natasha Lennard
January 9, 2012
Domestic work accounts for 7.5 percent of women's waged
employment worldwide, but is regularly characterized by poor
working conditions and insufficient legal protection,
according to a new report from the U.N.'s International Labor
Organization (ILO) released Wednesday.
Over 52 million people - predominantly women - worldwide are
employed as domestic workers, an increase of over 19 million
workers since the mid-1990s, according to the report, which
notes that its figures are likely considerable
underestimations as the domestic workforce is hard to
accurately survey. Of these millions of workers, ILO found,
"only 10 percent of all domestic workers (or 5.3 million) are
covered by general labor legislation to the same extent as
other workers. By contrast, more than one-quarter - 29.9
percent, or some 15.7 million domestic workers - are
completely excluded from the scope of national labor
The report highlighted "working time" as one of the biggest
problems for the domestic workforce: "More than half of all
domestic workers have no limitation on their weekly normal
hours under national law, and approximately 45 percent have no
entitlement to weekly rest periods."
"Domestic workers are frequently expected to work longer hours
than other workers and in many countries do not have the same
rights to weekly rest that are enjoyed by other workers.
Combined with the lack of rights, the extreme dependency on an
employer and the isolated and unprotected nature of domestic
work can render them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse,"
said Sandra Polaski, ILO deputy director-general.
Other concerns raised in the report include low wages,
especially in countries without minimum wage requirements or
where minimum wage requirements are not extended to the
domestic labor sphere. The difficulty of improving these
conditions, the ILO notes, is worsened by the "legislative,
administrative and practical barriers to forming trade unions
and to using traditional collective bargaining methods."
Meanwhile, some countries offer better protections for
domestic workers than others, the ILO found:
Many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, in
Africa and in the industrialized world have already
extended protections to domestic workers. By contrast,
most countries in the Middle East and Asia still have to
implement the principle of equal treatment [for domestic
workers as other workers].
A recent report by the National Domestic Workers Alliance
(NDWA) and several other organizations offered the first
comprehensive look at struggles facing domestic workers in the
U.S. It noted that "just 8 percent of workers have written
contracts with their primary employers," while "employers
often regard contracts and agreements as non- binding."
In the U.S., the NDWA pointed out, domestic workers are not
protected under the National Labor Relations Act.
The new ILO report recommends the international adoption of
the agency's 2011 Convention 189 on domestic work, which
states that domestic workers should have the same rights as
other workers (which are themselves not respected worldwide,
it should be noted). The rights cited in Convention 189
Reasonable working hours, Weekly rest of at least 24
consecutive hours, A limit on in-kind payment, Clear
information on terms and conditions of employment, Respect
for fundamental principles and rights at work, including
freedom of association and the right to collective
Speaking to MSNBC's Ned Resnikoff last year, NDWA director Ai-
jen Poo stressed the importance of setting up protections for
domestic workers as the sector exponentially grows. As the
U.S. population ages, Poo noted "there's going to be a growing
demand for long-term care, but especially home- based care .
In some ways, you could think about the manufacturing industry
in the 20's and 30's, and how defining that was of the economy
as a whole. We believe that this kind of care work is equally
as defining in this economy." Close
[Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon,
covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-
rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email
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Many Domestic Workers without Labor Protection
January 9, 2013
The International Labor Organization (ILO) has found in a
recent study that almost one in three domestic workers is
without labor protection. The number of those workers has
risen enormously of late.
The number of domestic workers worldwide has soared by 60
percent since 1995 to a total of over 52 million people, the
International Labor Organization (ILO) said in a study on
"From caring for children to caring for elderly people and
persons with disabilities to performing a wide range of
household tasks, domestic workers are an indispensable part of
the social fabric," ILO Deputy Director-General Sandra Polaski
said in a statement.
But despite them being so important, nearly one third of them
were still not protected by national labor laws, the ILO study
Abuses no exception
The ILO said domestic workers faced significant discrimination
when it came to minimum wages and work hours.
"Combined with the lack of rights, the extreme dependency on
an employer and the isolated and unprotected nature of
domestic work can render them vulnerable to exploitation and
abuse," Polaski commented.
The UN labor body added that while many countries in Latin
America, Africa and the West had recently extended protection
mechanisms, most nations in the Middle East and Asia still had
yet to do so.
The ILO report was issued amid a campaign to get more
countries to sign the 2011 UN Convention on Domestic Work,
which set standards on work hours, wages and union activities.
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