Domestic Workers

Domestic workers are a large and growing segment of the informal economy workforce. Yet nearly 30 percent of the world’s more than 52 million domestic workers are employed in countries where they are completely excluded from national labor laws, including weekly rest days, limits to hours of work, minimum wage coverage and overtime pay.

Domestic workers, who are predominately women, toil invisibly in private homes, sweeping and cleaning, washing clothes and dishes; shopping and cooking; and caring for children, the elderly and the disabled. Some live on the premises of their employer. Many work for multiple employers. Away from the public eye, they often are subject to abuse and typically have no protections under nations’ labor laws. Their labor is sometimes not recognized as “real” work.

The International Labor Organization estimates that 73 percent of child domestic workers are girls and one-third (3.5 million) are between ages 5 and 11.

Over the past 30 years, workers worldwide have increasingly migrated to take jobs in domestic work. In several regions, including Europe, the Gulf countries and the Middle East, the majority of domestic laborers today are migrant women. Yet despite the many obstacles they face, domestic workers worldwide have made huge strides in securing rights and respect on the job by joining together in unions and associations.

The Solidarity Center was part of an intensive global campaign spearheaded by the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF) and the IUF, the global union federation, that successfully pushed for the 2011 ratification of the ILO’s historic Convention 189 on domestic workers’ rights. The Domestic Workers Convention went into effect in September 2013, and has been ratified by more than 10 countries.

Under the convention, domestic workers are entitled to the same basic rights as those available to other workers, including weekly days off, limits to hours of work, minimum wage coverage, overtime compensation, and clear information on the terms and conditions of employment.

Through our programs on migration and trafficking, rule of law and gender equality, the Solidarity Center works to empower domestic workers by educating them about their rights, providing resources to strengthen their ability to advocate for improved wages and working conditions and pushing for labor law reform and adoption of Convention 189 to ensure domestic work is legally recognized and valued.