Africa: Most Domestic Workers Lack Protections, Labour Group Says

press release

Washington — There are more than 52 million domestic workers around the world, 83 percent of whom are women, and many suffer from poor working conditions and insufficient legal protection, according to an International Labour Organization (ILO) report on the world's growing domestic workforce.

Domestic workers make up 7.5 percent of women worldwide who are earning a wage, with the majority working in the Asia and the Pacific region, followed by Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the report, which was released in Geneva January 9.

Based on its research, the ILO has documented a 60 percent rise in the number of domestic workers from 33.2 million in 1995 to 52.6 million in 2010. ILO Deputy Director-General Sandra Polaski said domestic workers are "an indispensable part of the social fabric" in many countries, where their responsibilities range from providing care for children, the elderly and the disabled to a wide variety of other household tasks.

But Polaski said the majority of domestic workers are "often exploited beyond what would be tolerated for other workers," and they are excluded from protections that other workers enjoy. Many are paid a flat weekly or monthly fee despite the fact that as a live-in employee they are expected to be available whenever they are needed.

"Domestic workers are frequently expected to work longer hours than other workers and in many countries do not have the same rights to weekly rest that are enjoyed by other workers. Combined with the lack of rights, the extreme dependency on an employer and the isolated and unprotected nature of domestic work can render them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse," Polaski said.

The ILO said some migrant domestic workers have a precarious legal status in the countries where they work, and they are especially vulnerable to abuse when they do not know the local language and laws. Such abuse can include physical and sexual violence, psychological abuse, nonpayment of wages, debt bondage and being forced to work and live in abusive conditions.

Among its findings, the ILO reported that 45 percent of domestic workers have no entitlement to weekly rest periods or paid annual leave; 29.9 percent are excluded from national labor legislation; and more than one-third of women domestic workers have no maternity protection.

The ILO also said its research did not include approximately 7.4 million domestic workers who are under the age of 15 and that because domestic work is often unreported, the real number of workers could actually be closer to 100 million.

The ILO report follows the adoption of a June 2011 treaty that seeks to ensure domestic workers around the world have decent pay and working conditions, including the same labor rights as other workers.

Currently, only 10 percent of domestic workers enjoy the same legal protections, including minimum wage and the right to collective bargaining, and more than 25 percent are completely excluded from labor legislation in the countries where they work.

The ILO said its report has set a benchmark against which future progress toward the standards set by the 2011 treaty can be measured, and as the world's domestic workforce continues to increase.

"The demand for domestic care workers will only grow in the future as societies age," Polaski said.

The United States is a strong supporter of the ILO's efforts to secure universal human rights through improvements in global living and working conditions. Both the United States and the ILO have pledged to raise awareness of and instill respect for democratic principles worldwide.

As the largest member state and donor of the ILO, the United States contributes approximately 22 percent of the ILO's regular budget each biennium, and it is also the single largest donor to ILO extra-budgetary technical cooperation projects.

The full report can be found at the ILO's website.

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