Published: 23/06/2010

Domestic workers fighting for rights and recognition through binding international standards won a crucial first round victory at the this year’s International Labour Conference at the ILO in Geneva. On June 4, 61 governments voted in favour of a Convention supplemented by a Recommendation, against 14 voting for a Recommendation only.

This first victory for the hundreds of millions of domestic workers around the world was followed by ten days of tough negotiations around proposed amendments, particularly from the Employers’ Group seeking to considerably weaken the scope and content of future standards. While claiming to recognize the important economic contribution of domestic workers, the employers characteristically argued that high standards would reduce employment opportunities for this group of workers – a contention challenged by government representatives from countries including Brazil, Uruguay, and South Africa, where domestic workers are covered under national legislation and collective agreements exist.

The Workers’ Group and the African, Australian, Latin American and US governments in particular managed not only to maintain the important clauses in the draft conclusions but to introduce several amendments further strengthening protection in key areas, including minimum working age/child labour and the liabilities and responsibilities of private employment agencies.

Despite the substantial progress made at this first discussion, a number of challenges remain for the second and final discussion in 2011. The principle of equal treatment with respect to social protection, working time, health and safety and labour inspection between domestic workers and workers in other sectors is far from established – including in some of the richest countries in the world including the members of the European Union

To prepare for next year’s discussion, the International Domestic Workers’ Network (IDWN) will have to mobilize strong support from relevant national and regional authorities around these issues. It will also be necessary to intensify the documentation of and awareness raising around domestic workers’ working and living conditions and the ways and means to improve these.

Workers’ Group spokesperson Halimah Yacob in her introductory remarks told the ILO tripartite Committee on Domestic Workers that their historic task was to take “decent work for all” from a slogan to a reality for all domestic workers. The IDWN and its members will return to next year’s negotiations better prepared than ever to fight for equal rights for all.

The full report and the conclusions from the ILO tripartite Committee on Domestic Workers are available here.