Domestic Work

Domestic Work

In everyday life all people need food, washed dishes, clean clothes, and a hygienic living space. At other times in their lives they may need to take care of children, of elderly, sick or injured relatives and even their pets! These important duties undertaken by, and on behalf of, other humans from birth until death is called “domestic work”. Traditionally, the burden of performing domestic work has fallen to the women of the household. The ILO estimated in 2010 that 83% of domestic workers worldwide are female, and the remainder male.1 Discrimination against women has thus historically led to domestic work’s economic value being overlooked and not recognised as ‘work’ under labour legislation.

The ILO estimated in 2010 that at least 21.5 million women and men work in private households across Asia, representing 41% of the world’s domestic workers worldwide.2 Despite the large domestic workforce worldwide, this type of work is not covered by domestic national labour laws. Consequently, there is an absence of mechanisms that allow for the regulation of working conditions. There is also a lack of official statistics or a formal database on domestic workers in the region (due in part to registration policies, such as the registration system in Thailand which does not cover all of the occupations or types of work undertaken by migrants, impeding the collection of meaningful statistics.)

Local domestic workers are not the only ones in the workforce. Migrant domestic workers also migrate in order to find work in this sector, to meet the demands of employers in other regions around the world and/or to meet their needs for a better life, as all humans have the right to do. Human rights protection and enforcement is still lacking for both local and migrant domestic workers. The working conditions endured by domestic workers are thus often very poor - no contractual agreement entered into prior to commencement of employment, no guaranteed minimum living conditions within the employer’s house, a lack of social welfare, days off and holidays, and restrictions on movements through the confiscation of registration cards. These lead to isolation from society, as well as rendering domestic workers vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, and restricting their access to justice mechanisms.

Community organisations such as SWAN, HOMENET, ANM, United for Foreign Domestic Workers’ Rights are struggling to raise awareness for the acceptance of domestic work as work, and promoting the protection of domestic workers right. Another Migrant Domestic Worker Group in Chiang Mai, supported by the MAP Foundation, now has its own program broadcasting through FM99, a local community radio station, which can also be streamed through the MAP Foundation Website.

The ILO has also been engaging with governments for many years to promote domestic work as decent work and has been trying to encourage governments to ratify ILO conventions to promote the rights of domestic workers. On the 16th of June 2011, the International Labour Organisation adopted Convention 189: Decent Work for Domestic Workers at the 100th Session of the ILO Conference. It is an important step towards empowering domestic workers and encouraging governments and employers alike to recognize and protect the rights of domestic workers. The draft Convention contains provisions specifying the working and living conditions that must be adhered to, as well as guaranteeing domestic workers the right to collectively bargain. At this early stage there have been no ratifications of the Convention. It is imperative for the rights of domestic workers that Thailand and the other Mekong countries ratify and implement the Convention in domestic laws in order for ILO Convention 189 to have the greatest impact.

1 ILO, ‘Global and regional estimates on domestic workers’, p. 8.
2 Ibid.

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