Domestic Work Worldwide

Domestic Work in Sri Lanka: Definition of Domestic work and domestic workers. ILO convention for domestic workers. Legal rights of domestic workers around the globe.

What is Domestic Work?

Domestic work is one of the oldest occupations for women in world history. It has links to slavery and various forms of servitude, including colonialism. It is an unregulated and undervalued activity because, in most of the countries, labor laws are not applicable to the domestic workers.

In a new Convention adopted by ILO in June 2011 (C189), domestic work is defined as the “work performed in or for a household or households”.  Domestic work is different from the care work performed by members of a household as part of a family responsibility and without creating an employment relationship.

Domestic work includes (in a household or households)

    1. Cleaning
    2. Washing, ironing (clothes, dishes)
    3. Ironing
    4. Cooking (Chef)
    5. Security guards  (home)
    6. Gardening
    7. Driving (Chauffeur)
    8. Child Care/Babysitting
    9. Elder Care
    10. Taking care of ill persons or persons with disabilities
    11. Taking care of animals/pets etc.
    12. Assistance in other household daily chores

Who is a Domestic Worker?

A domestic worker is one who works in or for another person’s home. For a person to qualify as a domestic worker, he/she must be engaged in domestic work within an employment relationship. The term of “employment relationship” excludes those persons from domestic work who:

    1. Perform their work only occasionally or sporadically  (such as part time baby sitters)
    2. Perform the domestic work as a family responsibility (child care, elder care, etc.)

However, workers employed for cleaning of public and private buildings and any other above mentioned activities are not domestic workers as domestic work is a household work and is usually performed within the boundaries of a house.

What are the types of domestic workers?

Domestic workers can be broadly divided into two categories i.e., live-in and live-out domestic workers. Live-in domestic workers are those who reside in the house where they perform their work while live-out workers live outside their place of work. The other categories are full time, part time, child domestic workers, bonded/forced labor, and migrant workers including au pair. It is pertinent to mention that domestic labor, in Asia and Africa, exists also in the form of child labor and bonded/forced labor. Moreover, au pair, initially a cultural exchange program for young people, is also a type of migrant domestic worker arrangement.

What domestic worker rights are guaranteed under the new ILO Convention?

The new convention requires provision of basic/fundamental rights to domestic workers on par with all other workers. Moreover, it requires that:

    1. Domestic workers are informed of their conditions of employment in an understandable manner through a written contract;
    2. Domestic workers are made to work only normal hours of work (for example, 48 hours a week in Pakistan and India) and other provisions like overtime compensation, periods of daily and weekly rest and annual paid leave are complied with;
    3. Minimum Age and Minimum Wage regulations (as are the norm in a country) are complied with;
    4. Wages are to be paid in cash, however, only a limited portion of wages may be in kind.

For migrant domestic workers, the convention requires that a written contract must be signed and handed over to a worker before he/she crosses the national boundary. However, this provision is not applicable when people enjoy freedom of movement through some bilateral or multilateral agreements. This provision is not applicable in the case of EU as well.

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