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Convention 189


Convention 189 -  Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Worker

Global March welcomes the adoption of the Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers

16 June 2011: Global March Against Child Labour welcomes the adoption by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) of the Convention for protection of the domestic workers, accompanied by a set of Recommendations today at the International Labour Conference (ILC) in Geneva, Switzerland.

Following lengthy negotiations the ILO has adopted the historic Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers, 50 years since the issue of their rights were first raised. This is a milestone for domestic workers – one of the most vulnerable groups of workers across the world. Governments, employers and unions meeting at the annual ILC voted on Thursday to approve the Domestic Workers Convention by 396 to 16 with 63 abstentions.

Around 100 million domestic workers stand to gain labour rights for the first time that will protect maids, nannies, cooks, helps across the world from exploitation. Too often invisible and hidden behind closed doors, which are hard to regulate, these workers, a larger percent of them children, are exploited and abused. Almost without exception, children who are in domestic labour are victims of exploitation, often of several different kinds. They are exploited economically when they have to work long hours with no time off, low wages or no remuneration at all. They are exploited because they generally have no social or legal protection, and suffer harsh working conditions including, for example, having to handle toxic substances.

The Domestic Workers Convention sets the minimum age of employment and prohibits children in hazardous work and regulates working hours, leaves including maternity leaves, health insurance, among other decent work standards.

Welcoming the new Convention Global March Chairperson Mr Kailash Satyarthi stated, “This is a recognition of the inhuman and terrible condition of the millions of victims of human and child slavery, and can not be ignored any further. Justice for them is inevitable. Global March calls for a speedy ratification of this Convention by the governments, with utmost political will, priority and resources.”

Global March issues a call to all the ILO Member States to quickly ratify and implement the new Convention to ensure that the entire spectrum of labour and social rights of domestic workers will be respected, including minimum age and protection of young domestic workers from hazardous work. In addition, Global March is renewing its calls for a major worldwide ratification campaign to be launched now. It is vital in countries in which child domestic labour is a problem and figures on hazardous child labour lists proceed to ratification and implementation as quickly as possible.

Press release | June 16, 2011

100th ILO annual Conference decides to bring an estimated 53 to 100 million domestic workers worldwide under the realm of labour standards

The government, worker and employer delegates at the 100th annual Conference of the International Labour Organization (ILO) on Thursday, 16 June adopted a historic set of international standards aimed at improving the working conditions of tens of millions of domestic workers worldwide.

GENEVA, (ILO News) – The government, worker and employer delegates at the 100th annual Conference of the International Labour Organization (ILO) on Thursday, 16 June adopted a historic set of international standards aimed at improving the working conditions of tens of millions of domestic workers worldwide.

“We are moving the standards system of the ILO into the informal economy for the first time, and this is a breakthrough of great significance,” said Juan Somavia, ILO Director-General. “History is being made.”

Conference delegates adopted the Convention on Domestic Workers (2011) by a vote of 396 to 16, with 63 abstentions and the accompanying Recommendation by a vote of 434to 8, with 42 abstentions. The ILO is the only tripartite organization of the UN, and each of its 183 Member States is represented by two government delegates, and one employer and one worker delegate, with an independent vote.

The two standards will be the 189th Convention and the supplementing 201st Recommendation adopted by the labour Organization since it was created in 1919. The Convention is an international treaty that is binding on Member States that ratify it, while the Recommendation provides more detailed guidance on how to apply the Convention.

The new ILO standards set out that domestic workers around the world who care for families and households, must have the same basic labour rights as those available to other workers: reasonable hours of work, weekly rest of at least 24 consecutive hours, a limit on in-kind payment, clear information on terms and conditions of employment, as well as respect for fundamental principles and rights at work including among others freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.

Recent ILO estimates based on national surveys and/or censuses of 117 countries place the number of domestic workers at a minimum of 53 million, but experts say there could be 100 million in the world, considering that this kind of work is often hidden and unregistered. In developing countries, they make up at least 4 to 12 per cent of wage employment. Around 83 per cent of these workers are women or girls and many are migrant workers.

The Convention defines domestic work as work performed in or for a household or households. While the new instruments cover all domestic workers, they provide for special measures to protect those workers who, because of their young age or nationality or live-in status, may be exposed to additional risks relative to their peers, among others.

According to ILO proceedings, the new Convention will come into force after two countries have ratified it.

“Bringing the domestic workers into the fold of our values is a strong move, for them and for all workers who aspire to decent work, but it also has strong implications for migration and of course for gender equality,” Mr. Somavia said.

In the introductory text, the new Convention says that “domestic work continues to be undervalued and invisible and is mainly carried out by women and girls, many of whom are migrants or members of disadvantaged communities and who are particularly vulnerable to discrimination in respect of conditions of employment and work, and to other abuses of human rights.”

Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director of UN Women, in her address to the Conference Committee, said that the deficit of decent work among domestic workers “can no longer be tolerated,” adding that UN Women would support the process of ratification and application of the new ILO instruments.

“We need effective and binding standards to provide decent work to our domestic workers, a clear framework to guide governments, employers and workers,” said Halimah Yacob, the Workers Vice-Chair from Singapore. She noted that the collective responsibility was to provide domestic workers with what they lacked most: recognition as workers; and respect and dignity as human beings.

Paul MacKay from New Zealand, the Employers Vice-Chair declared: “We all agree on the importance of bringing domestic work into the mainstream and responding to serious human rights concerns. All employers agree there are opportunities to do better by domestic workers and the households and families for whom they work”.

“Social dialogue has found its reflection in the results achieved here,” concluded the Chair of the Committee, Mr. H.L. Cacdac, Government delegate from the Philippines, when he closed the discussion.

“This is a truly major achievement,” said Manuela Tomei, Director of the ILO’s Conditions of Work and Employment Programme, calling the new standards “robust, yet flexible.” Ms. Tomei added that the new standards make clear that “domestic workers are neither servants nor ‘members of the family’, but workers. And after today they can no longer be considered second-class workers.”

The adoption of the new standards is the result of a decision taken in March 2008 by the ILO Governing Body to place the elaboration of an instrument on the agenda of the Conference. In 2010, the Conference held its first discussion and decided to proceed with the drafting of a Convention supplemented by a Recommendation adopted today.

Text of the Recommendation Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers

Text of the Convention Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers

Background

The International Labour Conference of the International Labour Organization (ILO) in June 2011 will see the second round of discussions on the proposed new Convention and Recommendation on decent work for domestic workers. Progress has been significant in finalising the texts of these instruments and Global March welcomes the strong references to minimum age of employment and occupational safety and health which will contribute considerably to the worldwide effort to eliminate child domestic labour.

Labour migration

Domestic work has been a major element of the growing phenomenon of migration, particularly in respect of women who, in 2000, represented just fewer than 50 per cent of all international migrants. There is considerable concern for undocumented women migrants in informal, unprotected, hidden and unregulated labour markets, including domestic workers. It was in order to tackle the problems resulting from the informal nature of the domestic work sector in many countries that, after many years of lobbying, it was finally decided to develop an appropriate international standard to protect these workers. The first round of discussions on a new Convention and Recommendation took place in June 2010 at the ILO’s annual conference.

Trafficking for forced labour

Most girls and women who are trafficked end up as domestic workers and are trafficked within and across state borders by organised traffickers. Girls and women from various Asian countries, for example, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia are often trafficked into countries in the Middle East and Gulf states, while those from African and East European countries may be trafficked into Western Europe to work as maids, nannies and housekeepers. Girls and boys are trafficked into India from Nepal and Bangladesh to work as domestic workers.

Traffickers usually source the victims in groups, with false or altered documents, and often lie about the destination countries and what they will actually do when they arrive. Poorly educated parents or guardians are often ignorant of the dangers of trafficking and are too trusting of agents who visit their homes to propose a better life for their children elsewhere. Agents take advantage of the ignorance and extreme poverty of parents or guardians and pay an advance sum as a sign of their “good” intentions. Those trafficked are often not in possession of legitimate contracts and identity documents and are therefore completely at the mercy of the traffickers and their eventual employers. 

Vulnerable workers

Domestic workers in many countries are excluded from labour legislation and their working conditions remain unregulated. Their employment situation is not considered to “fit” the general framework of existing employment laws since most of their work is generally invisible as it takes place in private households, which are not considered as work places, of private persons, who are not considered as employers. As a result, they are not normally considered as “workers” or “employees” and their work is undervalued. In other countries, labour legislation comprises discriminatory provisions for domestic workers and they may even be denied the right to organise in trade unions.

Women migrant domestic workers therefore suffer from three levels of discrimination. Firstly, as women workers; secondly, many of them are undocumented in the recipient country; and, thirdly, they can be a special category of “worker” within a household that no labour inspector or any other type of service can monitor. Indeed, there has been a growing number of international media reports in recent years of terrible abuse of domestic workers – one of the most recent being an Indonesian worker who had pins inserted into her body by her employer.

With little or no pay, without proper documentation, such as a visa, or a work contract, domestic workers may find themselves in a situation of debt bondage, moving from one exploitative employer to another. Others may be groomed for commercial sexual exploitation.

Steps needed to protect domestic workers

ILO research shows that the majority of domestic workers in private households are exposed to adverse conditions of employment and unfair work practices in terms of hours of work, rest periods and overtime. Other more extreme practices include withholding the passports of migrant domestic workers to ensure they do not try to leave the household.

On the basis of research and experiences from various projects and meetings on this issue over the years, a number of fundamental criteria have been elaborated for the protection of domestic workers, including:

Legislation: making sure that labour legislation provides the same rights and protection to domestic workers as any other workers and does not include any discriminatory clauses.

Policy development: ensuring that migration-related policy recognises labour market demand for domestic workers and opens up legal channels of migration for them.

Monitoring: introducing some form of monitoring of working conditions in the work place.

Abuse: forbidding, for example, the withdrawal of identity documents of domestic workers.

Prosecution: enforcing prosecution in the case of recruitment agents and employers/sponsors identified as having violated their contractual obligations and having committed abuses.

Flexibility: increasing flexibility for domestic workers in changing employers (without imprisonment and deportation) in cases of complaints of abuses.

Legal protection: as a minimum, domestic workers should have legal protection on clearly defined daily hours of work and rest periods; night work and overtime, including adequate compensation; clearly defined weekly rest and leave periods; minimum wage and payment of wages; standards on termination of employment; and, social security protection.

These criteria underpin the approach taken over the last couple of years, preparing for the discussions on a new Convention.

Child domestic labour

Global March welcomes the advent of a new Convention and Recommendation that will not only protect domestic workers and lead to improved working conditions, but will also ultimately provide a legal platform upon which a much stronger campaign to tackle child domestic labour can be built.

Throughout the world, having children work as domestic helpers continues to be culturally accepted and commonly practiced. The performing of household chores in someone else’s house in some countries is often considered as part of a child’s socialisation and development process. However, children who enter domestic labour often leave their own family at a very early age to work in the houses of others and are considered almost as ‘possessions’ of the household.

They may leave their families for reasons related directly or indirectly to situations of poverty whereby children of very poor families may be placed with families in better circumstances or children from rural settings are placed with those in urban situations. Sometimes, the child is placed with family members – although the notion of the “extended family” can sometimes be somewhat tenuous – but this is not always the case. However, the common thread that weaves through all of these different situations is that child domestic labour is frequently viewed by parents and rationalised by employers as an improvement in the child’s situation.
 
Child domestic workers represent the largest population of migrant working children, often working in conditions considered worst forms of child labour. According to ILO estimates, domestic work is the single largest employment category for girls under sixteen years of age worldwide. Child domestic labour, therefore, is a child labour issue, a children’s rights issue and a gender issue. It is a child labour issue as it involves economic exploitation and hazardous working conditions. It is a children’s rights issue because the nature and condition of work is detrimental to the child’s development and educational attainment. Finally, discrimination and the risk of sexual exploitation and abuse make it a gender issue.

Exploitative working conditions

While not all domestic work that children perform for others is necessarily child labour, the line between them is easily and far too often crossed. Child domestic labour is almost exclusively carried out in private homes, and thus it is hidden from public view and eludes inspection. Almost without exception, children who are in domestic labour are victims of exploitation, often of several different kinds. They are exploited economically when they have to work long hours with no time off, low wages or no remuneration at all. They are exploited because they generally have no social or legal protection, and suffer harsh working conditions including, for example, having to handle toxic substances.

They invariably are deprived of the rights due to them as children under international law, particularly education and skills training, but also including the right to play and to health; freedom from sexual abuse and harassment; visits to or from their family; association with friends; decent accommodation; and, protection from physical and mental abuse. They may even be deprived of a name, known only by the local word for ‘servant’.

Up until now, it has been difficult to address child domestic labour as labour legislation in many countries is not systematically applied to this sector because it is informal, lacks recognition as a form of economic activity and occurs in private homes. The labour laws and regulations are seen by many as unenforceable with private homeowners. Child domestic workers are rarely counted by national statistics because they are difficult to reach and often hidden behind closed doors. There is social and institutional reluctance in many countries to accept that domestic work is a form of child labour. As such, child domestic work is often excluded from laws and policies designed to address other forms of child labour because it is seen as impinging on the rights of the family.

Global March and its members have run campaigns in the past on the elimination of child domestic labour. The new ILO instruments give hope for renewed international impetus to make significant progress in this area.

Declaration on Proposed Convention by Global March South America

The South American member organisations of the Global March met in Lima, Peru, 25-26 October 2010, to discuss ways in which to strengthen the presence and activities of the Global March in the region. As part of this meeting, there was discussion on the proposed Convention and Recommendation on Decent Work for Domestic Workers and a declaration was issued calling for adoption of the proposed instruments as part of the broader effort to tackle child domestic labour.

To download the Declaration in English, click here
To download the Declaration in Spanish, click here

Blue Report

Second round of discussions on new Convention

Domestic workers are predominantly women and girls, many of them migrants and, as such, particularly vulnerable to abuse. In today’s globalised economy, there is increasing demand for domestic workers and it is vital that global minimum standards are urgently established to address the gaps in the protection of these workers. This then has been the backdrop to the efforts undertaken within the ILO to move the agenda forward and to adopt a new Convention and Recommendation on the domestic work sector.

The work to date began in March 2008 when the ILO’s Governing Body initiated the procedure towards the adoption of a new international labour standard on domestic work. The first round of discussions took place at the International Labour Conference in June 2010 and this led to a series of conclusions. On the basis of these, the so-called “Brown Report” was prepared by the ILO and sent out to member State constituents for comment between August to November 2010.

Publication of “Blue Report”

Comments were collected and analysed and this led to the publication of the so-called “Blue Report” which contains summaries of the comments received by the ILO and the revised draft instruments. This report can be downloaded under the section on “Resources”. Global March urges all member organisations to download closely study the report and circulate it as widely as possible through national and regional networks of trade unions, teachers’ and civil society organisations.

The next step will be the second round of discussions at the ILC in June 2011 which, in principle, should lead to the adoption of a new Convention and Recommendation. It is vital that national ILC delegations are well-prepared for this next round of discussions and it is crucial that Global March constituents take advantage of any opportunities to contribute to national discussions of the report and to lobbying governments on their position on the text of the Blue Report.

A positive sign of the interest of governments in the proposed Convention is that the response rate from ILO constituents to the Brown Report of 2010 was very high, with replies also from the United Nations and the European Commission.

The new Convention includes clear definition and scope of domestic workers. It also reinforces the fundamental rights of these workers, including to decent working and living conditions, written contracts, protection from all forms of abuse, occupational health and safety, working time and access to dispute settlement mechanisms. In addition, it highlights the need to eliminate child domestic labour.

The new Recommendation includes reference to freedom of association for domestic workers (the right to form and join trade unions) and the need to respect their work-life balance. In addition, it ensures the identification and prohibition of hazardous domestic work for children and protection for young domestic workers, i.e. children above the minimum age of employment but below the age of 18 and who are therefore protected by ILO Convention No. 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour.

Issues requiring further discussion

From the replies and comments received, the ILO has identified the following issues as requiring further discussion at the 2011 ILC:

  • Definitions and scope;
  • Working time;
  • Occupational safety and health;
  • Employment agencies;
  • Right to privacy.

These and other issues will form the basis for the discussions of the ILO’s Committee on Domestic Workers and ultimately the final texts that will be submitted to the ILC for adoption. In the ILO, a two-thirds majority is required to secure adoption.

Action

References to child labour

Articles 3 and 4 of the draft Convention text make constructive reference to the abolition of child labour and the ILO Child Labour Conventions, Nos. 138 on Minimum Age of Employment and 182 on Worst Forms of Child Labour, with a key reference to non-interference with education and training.

In addition, paragraph 4 of the draft Recommendation provides good protection to young workers above the minimum age of employment and below the age of 18:

4. (1)

Members should, taking into account the provisions of the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182), and Recommendation (No. 190), identify types of domestic work which, by their nature or the circumstances in which they are carried out, are likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children, and should also prohibit and eliminate such child labour.

(2)

When regulating the working and living conditions of domestic workers, Members should give special attention to the needs of domestic workers who are under the age of 18 and above the minimum age of employment as defined by national laws and regulations, and take measures to protect them, including by:

 

(a) strictly limiting their hours of work to ensure adequate time for rest, education and training, leisure activities and family contacts;
(b) prohibiting night work;
(c) placing restrictions on tasks that are excessively demanding, whether physically or psychologically; and
(d) establishing or strengthening mechanisms to monitor their working and living conditions.

Action areas for Global March members

In 2004, the World Day Against Child Labour focused on the plight of child domestic workers globally. In its own campaign on this issue, Global March, its members and partners advocated for strong state measures to make underage child domestic labour illegal.

Therefore, Global March welcomes the strong references to the ILO Child Labour Conventions and to protection for young workers above the minimum age of employment but below the age of 18 which will underpin these state measures. However, it is vital that the final text of the proposed Convention and Recommendation for domestic workers is as strong and detailed as it can possibly be for the protection of millions of vulnerable domestic workers and the promotion of and respect for their fundamental rights. Most domestic workers are women, many of whom will be mothers struggling to put food on the table for their families, making sure their children can go to school and doing everything they can for their families’ survival. This situation cannot be allowed to continue and domestic workers have the right to decent working conditions as any other worker in any other sector.

If this new Convention and Recommendation are adopted, it paves the way for much stronger, more coordinated and effective action to ensure decent work for domestic workers. It will empower them and lead to strong and active trade union organising to promote and protect their fundamental rights and improve working conditions. In so doing, it will contribute to improved family security and income which in turn will reduce reliance on children’s work for survival. Of course, this will take some time – but a positive outcome to June 2011 will provide the impetus and platform required to work towards change.

Therefore, Global March calls on all member organisations and partners to take whatever action they can to lobby for support for the new Convention and Recommendation in their countries. Below is a list of action areas for members and partners.

Circulate the ILO’s Blue Report throughout national, regional and international networks, encouraging analysis, debate and follow-up.

Communicate with other national trade union and civil society organisations and establish what is already being done as follow-up to the new Convention and Recommendation and discuss what gaps and opportunities still exist for follow-up. It is possible that some countries have already been active on this issue since the first round of discussions in 2010 and it is important to be aware of the outcome of the work and communications in 2010.

Find out what the government’s position is on the new Convention and Recommendation. Does it support the texts as they are? Or is it looking for amendments? If so, find out what amendments and why. If necessary, work with other trade union and civil society organisations to lobby the government to change its position if this might weaken the texts.

Call for national dialogue among trade union and civil society organisations on the new Convention and Recommendations. It is possible that communications networks on this issue already exist. Be informed and be involved if they do exist. Contribute to their establishment if they do not. National dialogue should lead to advocacy efforts to influence government position on the new Convention and Recommendation. It is vital that all member States support the new Convention and Recommendation and do not seek to weaken the text, particularly its references to the elimination of child domestic labour and protection of young workers.

Visit the web site of the International Domestic Workers’ Network (IDWN) – see the Resources section – and download their information and training materials. This network brings together trade union and civil society organisations protecting domestic workers in different countries and unites them in their concerted effort to ensure decent work in this sector and to eliminate child domestic labour. Check out which organisations from your country are part of this network and contact them to establish partnerships with them. Join the network and offer support and solidarity.

Work with other organisations already to prepare a campaign for ratification of the new Convention. In this way, national campaigns can be launched immediately if the Convention is adopted in June 2011. These campaigns should be coordinated through joint efforts of trade union and civil society organisations and should lobby governments to ratify and implement the new Convention through the development of a legislative framework. Campaigns can draw upon the significant experiences of others as indicated on the IDWN web site and should explore ways to contribute to regional and international ratification campaigns.

Key elements of the new Convention and Recommendation promote and protect the fundamental rights of domestic workers, including freedom of association. Trade unions should reach out to this vulnerable group of workers and civil society organisations which work on their behalf and discuss the most effective ways forward to bringing these workers into the trade union movement. Close collaboration between trade union and relevant civil society organisations will be very important, as will consultation with domestic workers themselves. Domestic workers operate in a very different work environment to other sectors and this will require creative and innovative approaches in terms of organising and collective bargaining.

The new Convention and Recommendation, if adopted, will provide new impetus to national and global efforts to eliminate child domestic labour which is another important reason to press for rapid ratification. Global March members and partners should lobby governments to support and ratify the new Convention and work towards integration into national legislation. This is particularly important in countries where child domestic labour has been included on the hazardous work list for child labour.

Global March members and partners should develop and implement new awareness-raising and advocacy campaigns and action plans on the elimination of child domestic labour linked to the adoption of the new Convention and Recommendation and also the 2011 World Day Against Child Labour which has hazardous child labour as its theme. Combining the two events will strengthen national campaigns and contribute more effectively to raising awareness. 

Efforts should be made at national, regional and international level, including by Global March, to link new Convention campaign plans and activities related to the issue of impact for adult domestic workers and child domestic labourers. The two are inter-linked and mutually supportive, involving trade union and civil society organisations, and it is important that this link be highlighted in campaigning activities to ensure efficiencies in the use of human, knowledge and financial resources and enhance sustainable impact.

Share news and information about national and regional activities on the new Convention and Recommendation, its adoption and ratification, and on the elimination of child domestic labour. These can be shared through the Global March network and the International Domestic Workers’ Network. We want to hear from you about what you are doing and to share this with others more widely. Please send your information to: info@globalmarch.org.

Global March statement calling for adoption of new Convention and Recommendation

New Delhi, 27 May 2011

An international convention on decent work for domestic workers is long overdue. The Global March Against Child Labour therefore eagerly awaits the outcome of the discussions on this urgent issue at the 100th Session of the International Labour Conference (ILC) in Geneva, Switzerland from 1–17 June 2011. It is hoped that the final deliberations of a two-year process of drafting and consultation will culminate in the adoption of the proposed Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers.

It is a historic occasion for the International Labour Organization (ILO) to be celebrating its 100th Conference Session and, in the light of the global economic crisis, the theme “Building a future with decent work” is well chosen. It is equally fitting that such an occasion should include debate on a new international instrument that could improve the lives and livelihoods of millions of domestic workers around the world and contribute significantly to the elimination of child domestic labour – one of the most abusive forms of child labour.

Global March acknowledges the progress made by the tripartite partners of the ILO, as well as civil society groups, since June 2010 in ensuring the presentation of a revised draft of the Convention and Recommendation to serve as a basis for discussion at the ILC. Particular recognition must be given to the important role and work of the International Domestic Workers Network on mobilising trade union and civil society actors on the critical issue of decent work for domestic workers.

Global March welcomes the strong references to child labour, minimum age of employment and occupational safety and health, in particular Articles 3 and 4 of the proposed Convention and Paragraphs 4 and 18 of the proposed Recommendation, which will contribute considerably to the worldwide effort to eliminate child domestic labour and to protect adolescent workers below the age of 18 from hazardous work. These specific references will be crucial in supporting the programmes and activities of the Global March, its members and other organisations tackling child labour. However, Global March would stress the need to link efforts to tackle child domestic labour to global anti-trafficking efforts, particularly cross-border trafficking of children into domestic labour.

Child domestic labour is a particularly difficult form of child labour to deal with as, in many countries, it is culturally accepted and commonly practised. For many years, Global March and its members have been in the forefront of the civil society campaign against child domestic labour, highlighting the challenge in tackling this hidden and established form of child labour and the need for increased policy and legislative coherence and national and international resources in efforts to eliminate it.

As delegates of the ILC start their work, it is important to keep in mind the potential impact the proposed Convention and Recommendation could have on the lives of millions of vulnerable children. Child domestic labour refers to situations where children perform domestic tasks in the home of a third party or “employer” under exploitative conditions (long working hours, with little or no wages, for example, or below the minimum legal working age). These children, working behind closed doors in private homes, are extremely vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

They may leave their families for reasons related directly or indirectly to situations of poverty whereby children of very poor families are placed with families in better circumstances or children from rural settings are placed with those in urban situations. Sometimes, the child is placed with family members – although the notion of the “extended family” can sometimes be somewhat tenuous – but this is not always the case. However, the common thread in all of these different situations is that child domestic labour is frequently viewed by parents and rationalised by employers as an improvement in the childs situation. In addition, child domestic workers represent the largest population of migrant working children, often working in conditions considered worst forms of child labour.

According to ILO estimates, domestic work is the single largest employment category for girls under 16 years of age worldwide. Child domestic labour, therefore, is a child labour issue, a childrens rights issue and a gender issue. It is a child labour issue as it involves economic exploitation and hazardous working conditions. It is a childrens rights issue because the nature and conditions of work are detrimental to the childs development and educational attainment. Lastly, discrimination and the risk of sexual exploitation and abuse make it a gender issue.

While not all domestic work that children perform for others is necessarily slavery, the line between them is easily and far too often crossed. Child domestic labour is almost exclusively carried out in private homes, and thus it is hidden from public view and eludes inspection. Almost without exception, children who are in domestic labour are victims of exploitation, often of several different kinds. They are invariably deprived of the rights due to them as children under international law, particularly education and skills training, but also the right to play and to health; the right to freedom from sexual abuse and harassment; visits to or from their families; association with friends; decent accommodation; and protection from physical and mental abuse. They may even be deprived of a name, known only by the local word for „servant.

Up until now, it has been difficult to address child domestic labour as labour legislation in many countries is not systematically applied to this sector because it is informal, lacks recognition as a form of economic activity and occurs in private homes. The labour laws and regulations are seen by many as unenforceable with private homeowners. Child domestic workers are rarely counted by national statistics because they are difficult to reach and often hidden behind closed doors. There is social and institutional reluctance in many countries to accept that domestic work is a form of child labour. As such, child domestic work is often excluded from laws and policies designed to address other forms of child labour because it is seen as impinging on the rights of the family.

This situation – involving millions of children around the world – could potentially change and could provide national actors with the requisite legislation and mechanisms to eliminate child domestic labour once and for all. Establishing a legal framework is a major step forward in the fight against child domestic labour. Therefore, the adoption of a Convention and Recommendation on Decent Work for Domestic Workers at this 100th Session of the ILC would be a momentous achievement and a major boost to the campaign to eliminate child domestic labour. However, adoption alone is not enough and Global March urges all ILO member States to progress as rapidly as possible with ratification.

The worldwide movement against child labour has made significant progress since 1999 not only because of the adoption of ILO Convention No. 182 on Worst Forms of Child Labour, but because of its rapid and widespread ratification which also influenced the ratification of ILO Convention No. 138 on Minimum Age of Employment. The new Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers will not only greatly help in eliminating child domestic labour but also in ensuring that the sector itself can benefit from radical improvements and lasting change that will benefit young workers as well as adults. Decent Work for Domestic Workers can become an intervention to support decent youth employment and contribute even further to the fight against child labour.

Against this backdrop, Global March urges all ILC delegations to adopt without change the proposed Convention and Recommendation on Decent Work for Domestic Workers and underlines its commitment to work with all actors, including children and communities, within this new framework to launch a major global initiative to eliminate child domestic labour.

To download the statement in Spanish, click here

Decent work for domestic workers: Towards new international labour standards

Global March has reproduced an interview that was conducted by ILO Online in May 2010 prior to the first round of tripartite discussions on the proposed domestic work convention at the 99th session of the International Labour Conference in Geneva in June 2010. The interview provides important information for members and partners on the vital importance of this new convention, including its potential to tackle child labour and make domestic work safer for adolescent workers (above minimum age of employment).

Domestic work employs millions of workers, mostly women, around the world. The June 2010 session of the International Labour Conference will hold a first discussion on a new international labour standard for a domestic workforce that is growing worldwide. ILO Online spoke with Manuela Tomei, Director of the ILO’s Conditions of Work and Employment Programme, about working conditions of domestic workers, and how they can be improved.
                                                                                                                            
ILO Online: How would you define domestic work?

Manuela Tomei: Domestic workers may cook, clean, take care of children, the elderly or the disabled, even domestic animals. Domestic workers may work full- or part-time as wage workers for one or more employers. They may also be self-employed with substantial control over the terms of their work, or provide services in individual homes while being paid by licensed institutions. Domestic workers, especially full-time migrant domestic workers, may also live in the employer’s home.

ILO Online: What is the composition of this workforce?

Manuela Tomei: The composition of the domestic workforce changes by country and over time, but, everywhere, their numbers are growing. According to a new ILO report prepared for this year’s International Labour Conference, domestic work absorbs a significant proportion of the workforce, ranging between 4 and 10 per cent of total employment in developing countries and up to 2.5 per cent of total employment in industrialized countries. While domestic work is overwhelmingly comprised of women, an important proportion of them migrants, men also work as gardeners or as guardians in private homes or as family chauffeurs.

ILO Online: What are the reasons behind this increase in domestic work?

Manuela Tomei: Changes in the organization and intensification of work and the marked rise in female labour participation rates, which has reduced women’s availability for unpaid care work, are responsible for this increase. Besides, the ageing of societies, intensified national and international migration of women and the decline in state provision of care and social services have made it increasingly difficult for families to reconcile paid work with family responsibilities. As a result, reliance on domestic work has increased everywhere across the world as a private strategy to counter mounting work-family tensions.

ILO Online: What are their conditions of work?

Manuela Tomei: Despite its growing social and economic significance, domestic work has been, and remains, one of the most precarious, low-paid, insecure and unprotected forms of employment. Many domestic workers are overworked, underpaid and unprotected. Abuse and exploitation are common, especially when children and migrant workers are involved. Because of their young age or nationality, and the fact that they often live in the employer’s household, they are particularly vulnerable to verbal and physical violence. There are frequent media reports on such violence, including suicides and homicides in the worst case.

ILO Online: Where does the lack of protection come from?

Manuela Tomei: The serious decent work deficits facing domestic workers are a consequence of their legal and social vulnerability. Domestic workers are excluded either de jure or de facto from the effective protection of national labour law and social security regimes-both in industrialized and developing countries. Another flagrant case is the exclusion of domestic workers from the scope of occupational safety and health legislation in most countries, as the household is erroneously perceived as safe and non-threatening.

ILO Online: What is so specific about domestic work that it needs special regulation?

Manuela Tomei: Domestic work differs from other types of work in many respects. First, domestic work is largely limited to inside the home, and therefore can escape the outreach of conventional mechanisms of control, such as labour inspection services that face legal and administrative obstacles to inspecting private premises. Second, domestic work mirrors work traditionally performed by women without pay, and is thus perceived as lacking in value and exogenous to the “productive” economy. This explains why domestic workers commonly earn low wages, and may often be either under- or unpaid at regular intervals.

Third, domestic workers have limited bargaining power as they are an “invisible” (working inside the household, out of public sight) and isolated workforce, with no peer workers to turn to for support or guidance on what is to be considered a reasonable request or an unacceptable treatment. When migrant workers are involved, their isolation may be even greater as they often do not master the national or local language and have no family or other supportive networks to rely on. All these characteristics reinforce the perception of domestic work as not constituting “real” work, thus contributing to its further undervaluation and neglect.

ILO Online: Why do we need international labour standards on domestic work?

Manuela Tomei: Existing international labour standards do not offer adequate guidance on how to ensure meaningful protection to domestic workers as they either fail to address the specific context in which domestic work takes place or allow for their exclusion. This led the ILO Governing Body to agree to include a standard-setting activity on decent work for domestic workers on the agenda of the 99th Session (2010) of the International Labour Conference (ILC). The latter will deal with this question according to the double discussion procedure. This means that, while in 2010 the ILC will be called to discuss the desirability and form of a possible international instrument (s) on the subject, a final decision on a possible adoption will be taken in June 2011.

A specific international norm for domestic workers, to be effective, would need to reaffirm the protections to which domestic workers are already entitled to under existing ILO standards, while recognizing their special employment relationship and providing for specific standards to make these rights a reality. The decision to discuss such a norm on decent work for domestic workers reflects the ILO’s commitment, as embedded in its Decent Work Agenda, to bring workers once deemed to be outside of its constituency into its mainstream work. It recognizes that domestic workers are real workers and takes account of the fact that the overwhelming majority of domestic workers in the globalizing economy are women.

Source: ILO Online, 31 May 2010