On Wednesday the UN agency the International Labor Organization (ILO) released a detailed report which found that despite some gains in the past decade, many domestic workers worldwide continue to lack many of the labor rights and protections which workers in other non-domestic settings have.
According to the report “Domestic Workers across the World: Global and regional statistics and the extent of legal protection” worldwide there were approximately 52.6 million documented domestic workers in 2010, 83% of which were female.
In a press release ILO Deputy Director-General Sandra Polaski stated, “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.” She continued, “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.”
The report focused on basic worker rights and worker protections.
Contrary to workers’ rights acknowledged in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Rights, the report found that many domestic workers are paid a low, flat weekly or monthly wage despite the number of hours that worker is expected to be available to the employer. In addition, many domestic workers receive no days off in a week nor do they receive paid vacation time.
Wage levels remain low in many countries, partially due to such countries undervaluing the wage rights of females; however some gains have been made in raising wage rates over the past decade in countries such as Brazil and South Africa which have enacted stronger minimum wage laws. A problem does arise when employers abuse their ability to provide in-kind payments, expecting 24-hour service in return for minimal room and board.
Furthermore, the report studied maternity rights for domestic workers, finding that Latin American and African countries rank highest in maternity rights, with developed countries and Eastern European and Commonwealth of Independent States countries following, Asian and Pacific countries affording few maternity rights, and the Middle East providing statistically no maternity rights to female domestic workers.
In regard to protections in other areas, the report determined that the lack of protections for domestic worker can also lead to a higher number of cases of abuse; particularly to migrant workers who are not as fluent in the language and laws and do not fully understand the labor rights of the country in which they work. The news release for the report remarked, “The precarious legal status of migrant domestic workers and their lack of knowledge of the local language and laws make them especially vulnerable to abusive practices, such as physical and sexual violence, psychological abuse, non-payment of wages, debt bondage and abusive living and working conditions.”
Polaski added, “The large disparities between wages and working conditions of domestic workers compared to other workers in the same country underline the need for action at the national level by governments, employers and workers to improve the working lives of these vulnerable but hard-working individuals.”
“Domestic Workers across the World: Global and regional statistics and the extent of legal protection.” International Labor Office. International Labor Organization. 09 January 2013. Web. 09 January 2013.
“More than 52 million domestic workers worldwide.” International Labor Organization. 09 January 2013. Web. 09 January 2013.