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ILO: 52 Million in Domestic Work Worldwide

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This is a cross-post from the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center’s Tula Connell.

Some 52 million people older than 15—primarily women—labor as domestic workers around the world, according to a report released today by the International Labor Organization (ILO). Of those, 83 percent are women. The vast number of domestic workers, 21.4 million, are in Asia and the Pacific region, with 19.6 million in Latin America, 5.2 million in Africa and 2.1 million in the Middle East.

These figures exclude child domestic workers younger than 15. The ILO, in 2008, estimated 7.4 million children work in domestic labor.

This first-of-its-kind ILO report is meant to further spotlight the plight of domestic workers, many of whom are vulnerable to abuses—from low wages and long hours to physical abuse and human trafficking.

Other key findings include:

  • 29.9 percent of domestic workers have no labor law protection.
  • 45 percent are not entitled to weekly rest periods or paid annual leave.
  • More than one-third of domestic workers have no maternity protection.

Only 10 percent of domestic workers are fully covered by national labor laws, a finding that highlights the need for nations to remedy laws in which millions of workers are denied the fundamental freedom to safe, healthy and family-supporting work.

As the report notes: “the relationship between a domestic worker and…employer has often relied on a paternalistic model, rather than on an explicit employment contract under which the worker and the employer each has clearly defined rights and obligations.” Domestic workers remain one of the least protected groups of workers under national labor legislation.

In June 2011, the ILO approved the Decent Work for Domestic Workers Convention (Convention 189), which sets international labor standards for domestic work. The convention requires governments that ratify it to ensure that domestic workers are covered by the ILO core labor standards, which include the freedom to form unions, elimination of forced labor, abolition of child labor and elimination of discrimination. So far, eight countries—Uruguay, the Philippines, Nicaragua, Mauritius, Bolivia, Paraguay, Colombia and Italy—have ratified the convention. Convention 189 goes into force one year after ratification by two countries.

The Solidarity Center worked with unions and partner organizations to advocate for passage of the Domestic Workers Convention and supports trade unions and domestic worker organizations in developing innovative organizing models and advocating for domestic workers at all levels of government.

Read the full report here.

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