Domestic Work is Work: 10 years after the adoption of the Domestic Workers Convention, domestic workers are still fighting for recognition

Domestic Work is Work: 10 years after the adoption of the Domestic Workers Convention, domestic workers are still fighting for recognition

17 December 2021

Sneh Aurora, Director, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative

Laura Skadhauge Bloom, Legal Research and Advocacy Officer, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative

A decade ago, domestic workers rallied around a simple argument: Domestic Work is Work. They pushed for the same labour and social protections as other workers, and their tireless advocacy led to the adoption of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Domestic Workers Convention (C189) in 2011, which sets global standards to ensure decent work for domestic workers.

To date, however, only 35 countries have ratified the Convention, and only 9 of these are Commonwealth nations.

Action is needed now.

States must recognise the importance of domestic workers to the global economy by ratifying and implementing C189.

2021 is the 10th year of C189. This is the time to reflect and push forward calls for the recognition of domestic work in national laws and policies. Representing 2.4 billion people across 54 countries, the Commonwealth must lead on ratifying and implementing C189. To date, only 6 of 54 Commonwealth countries have brought the Convention into force.

The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), with support from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the Commonwealth Trade Union Group (CTUG), released the report Domestic Work is Work: Using ILO Convention 189 to Protect Workers' Rights Across the Commonwealth. This report aims to raise awareness of the importance of ratifying C189 and outlines key messages and actions civil society can use to lobby their governments around C189 and support domestic workers in their continued battle for decent work. 

Why Act Now?

Sustainability. It is imperative that governments prioritise domestic workers for the sake of a sustainable economy. At a time of increasing demand in the care economy, we risk a gap in much-needed care if the sector is not sufficiently attractive to potential workers. With ageing populations and more women entering the workforce, the World Economic Forum estimates that 40% of new job opportunities in emerging professions between 2020 and 2023 will be in the care economy.

Domestic workers’ rights are linked to the realisation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), in particular SDGs 5 (gender equality and women’s empowerment) and 8 (decent work for all). The exclusion of domestic workers from social and labour protections renders them particularly vulnerable to exploitation and discrimination. To meet global targets by 2030, the standards enumerated in C189 must be implemented by all states.

Gender Equality. Ratifying C189 is also a gender issue. According to the ILO, 94% of domestic workers are not covered by all social security branches in their country and 43% are excluded from minimum wage protections or have a minimum wage lower than other workers. Ensuring domestic work is an attractive employment opportunity lessens the burden of domestic work on women, who currently do three times as much unpaid care and domestic work as men, and allows more women to enter the workforce. In addition, as over 76% of the 75+ million domestic workers globally are women, excluding domestic workers from labour laws is also indirect gender discrimination. 

Covid-19. Domestic workers need support in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which exacerbated poor working conditions and left millions of domestic workers unemployed. To recover from this pandemic and future crises, we must ensure all workers are covered by existing safety nets. The pandemic also highlighted the importance of domestic work as more households became responsible for home-schooling and child care. As the world rebuilds and prepares for future disasters, this is a unique opportunity to put the rights of domestic workers first.

What can be done?

Immediate action is needed to ensure domestic workers’ fair treatment, including increased protections, decent pay, improved working conditions and an acknowledgement of the essential care that domestic workers provide to households and communities.

States must immediately to fulfil its international human rights obligations:

  • Ratify and implement the Domestic Workers Convention (C189). Prioritise the inclusion of domestic workers in labour laws and social protections in parity with all other workers. 
  • Collaborate with civil society organisations and domestic workers on the implementation of all C189 provisions and its accompanying Domestic Workers Recommendation (R201).
  • Prioritise funding and provide resources for civil society organisations and other institutions that support domestic workers and conduct research about domestic workers issues. Information and data on domestic workers should be made accessible so that interventions and support are evidence-based, relevant and strategically address existing gaps in protection.

Civil society advocates should continue to push for the ratification and ensure effective implementation of C189:

  • Collaborate with domestic workers and domestic worker-led organisations, including trade unions, to inform responsive and effective advocacy, using a trauma-informed approach.
  • Raise awareness around the importance of domestic work and the rights of domestic workers through education and campaigns.
  • Engage key decision-makers who can push for the ratification and implementation of C189 through parliamentary questions, letters, and meetings with sympathetic officials.
  • Utilise key dates, such as the Global Day of Action for Care, to strategically advocate for and arrange collective action around the rights of domestic workers.
  • Join international and regional civil society coalitions, such as the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF), to amplify national issues at international and regional fora.

Read the report Domestic Work is Work: Using ILO Convention 189 to Protect Workers' Rights Across the Commonwealth by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative: