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International Labour Organization: Domestic Workers Convention

(Sept. 9, 2013) On September 5, 2013, the Domestic Workers Convention came into effect. It extends basic labor rights to domestic workers worldwide. The Convention, developed by the International Labour Organization (ILO), had to be ratified by two ILO Member States to come into force; as of September 5, eight countries have ratified it (Bolivia, Italy, Mauritius, Nicaragua, Paraguay, the Philippines, South Africa, and Uruguay). (Press Release, ILO, Convention 189: Landmark Treaty for Domestic Workers Comes into Force (Sept. 5, 2013); C189 – Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189), NORMLEX.)

The Convention defines domestic work as “work performed in or for a household or households” and domestic worker as any person regularly “engaged in domestic work within an employment relationship.” (Convention, art. 1.) The document requires Member States to take measures “to ensure the effective promotion and protection of the human rights of all domestic workers …” and enumerates the goals of ensuring freedom of association (including for collective bargaining), elimination of forced or compulsory labor, abolition of child labor, and ending employment discrimination. (Convention, art. 3.)

Since the drafting of the Convention, a number of countries have either passed new legislation on the labor and social rights of domestic workers or begun work on such reforms. (See for example Constance A. Johnson, Indonesia: Domestic Worker Legislation Under Consideration, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (June 3, 2013); Eduardo Soares, Brazil: Labor Rights of Household Workers, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (May 27, 2013).) Costa Rica and Germany, among other countries, have begun the process of ratifying the treaty. (Press Release, supra.)

According to Manuela Tomei, the Director of the ILO Working Conditions and Equality Department, the recent legislative activity in several countries “shows that the momentum sparked by the ILO Convention on domestic workers is growing.” She added that the new policies being developed recognize “the dignity and value of domestic work.” (Id.)

There are at present an estimated 53 million adult domestic workers, in addition to approximately 10.5 million children who work in other people’s homes; of these domestic workers around the world, about 83% are female. Many of these people work in exploitative situations and lack protection to seek remedies, according to the ILO. (Id.)