Published: 05/03/2010

Domestic workers around the world are organizing to challenge the harsh, abusive, often slave-like conditions in which they work. They are organizing unions and support networks, and they are mobilizing in support of an international Convention that will finally recognize them as workers and establish their rights in international law.

Domestic work is one of the oldest and most important occupations for many women in many countries. It is linked to the global history of slavery, colonialism and other forms of servitude. In its contemporary manifestations, domestic work is a global phenomenon that perpetuates hierarchies based on race, ethnicity, indigenous status, caste and nationality. In the past two decades demand for care work has been on the rise everywhere. The massive incorporation of women in the labour force, the ageing of societies, the intensification of work and the frequent lack or inadequacy of policy measures to facilitate the reconciliation of family life and work underpin this trend. Today, domestic workers make up a large portion of the workforce, especially in developing countries, and their number has been increasing – even in the industrialized world. Domestic work, nonetheless, is undervalued and poorly regulated, and many domestic workers remain overworked, underpaid and unprotected. Accounts of maltreatment and abuse, especially of live-in and migrant domestic workers, are regularly denounced in the media. In many countries, domestic work is very largely performed by child labourers.

A new report from the ILO – Decent work for domestic workers – concludes that domestic workers need a Convention (the strongest form of ILO instrument which once ratified is a legally binding treaty) supplemented by a Recommendation to protect their rights. The IUF welcomes this conclusion, and on International Women’s Day urges affiliates to take action in the runup to the 2010 International Labour Conference , where negotiations will begin in June to develop new international labour standards for the protection of domestic workers.

Support from the international labour movement and from governments will be needed to ensure that the more than 100 million domestic workers around the world have the right to form trade unions and negotiate with employers, to an adequate standard of living, to protection against discrimination, slavery and forced labour and to access to social security and social protection systems.

To build support, IUF affiliates can:

  • Check what your government is saying about domestic workers in your country
  • Lobby the trade union representatives in your country’s delegation to the International Labour Conference to make sure they support the work to develop a new Convention and Recommendation to assist domestic workers
  • Lobby your government to to support the new ILO instruments
  • Build awareness through media work, education and public events to highlight the situation of domestic workers and the need for legal measures to support their rights
  • Organize domestic workers into your union or build links with existing networks of domestic workers and bring them into the trade union movement.

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