Domestic Workers – Progress and Ongoing Struggle

Domestic Workers

WIEGO's Chris Bonner, Barbro Budin and Karin Pape capture the process of forming the International Domestic Workers' Federation (IDWF) in 2013 and the domestic workers' jubilation in this Global Labour Column article: "Yes we did it!" 

28 October 2013 - The International Domestic Workers' Federation is born! This is the first global union run entirely by women, and proves that all workers can be organized to fight for their rights. Learn more and share the excitement.

19 September, 2013 - Costa Rica Passes Law to Protect Domestic Workers

5 September, 2013 – Landmark UN Labour Treaty Extends Rights for Domestic Workers WorldwideA United Nations treaty entering into force today will extend the labour and social rights of some 53 million domestic workers around the world. From today, the ILO Domestic Workers Convention (C189), adopted in 2011, will be legally binding for signatory countries.

8 September, 2013 - Domestic Workers Receive Meany-Kirkland Human Rights Award at AFL-CIO ConventionRead the story. Below, watch the video.


In June 2013, domestic workers worldwide celebrated the 2nd anniversary of the adoption of an international Convention that confers workers' rights on this often hidden and vulnerable sector. History was made on June 16, 2011 when governments, employers and workers adopted C189 – the Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers – at the International Labour Conference (ILC) in Geneva. Read about this significant historical event.

See which countries have ratified the ILO convention and recommendation! Learn more.

News: Progress and Ongoing Struggle

  • The Africa Domestic Workers Network (AfDWN) was launched in Cape Town, South Africa on 16 June 2013. Domestic workers representatives from 17 organizations, representing a total membership of 95,572 workers across 17 African countries, came together to endorse the new network. The goal is to strengthen coordination and solidarity among  domestic workers’ organizations in Africa, and use  collective power to achieve ratification of C189 and improved legislation for domestic workers in Africa. Read the declaration.
  • Both South Africa's and Germany's governments ratified C189 in June 2013. In Germany, the IUF affiliate Nahrung-Genuss-Gaststätten (union of food, hotel & restaurant and allied workers) and the German Confederation of Trade Unions’ (DGB) were instrumental in securing this ratification, along with, the ITUC and IDWN. Read more.
  • In Uruguay and Italy – both of which have ratified C189 – domestic workers have negotiated new collective agreements
  • In India, a new National-Level Trade Union of Domestic Workers (NTU-DW) was launched to unite domestic workers across the country and help them get better access to rights and security. Read more in the Deccan Herald (16 June 2013).
  • In India, the state government of Haryana has extended health insurance to domestic workers, reported the Times of India on June 07, 2013. Through the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojna (RSBY), domestic workers will get the benefit of smart card-based cashless health insurance cover of Rs 30,000 per annum for a family of five.
  • Michelle Chen writes in In These Times: Domestic Workers Sow a New Global Movement.
  • The ILO published Domestic Workers Across the World: Global and Regional Statistics and the Extent of Legal Protection (January 2013).
  • Brazil grants domestic workers equal labour rights -  After decades as second-class citizens under Brazil's Constitution─which long ago established a special, subservient category for domestic workers─a constitutional amendment passed by the Brazilian Congress will remove the clause and make domestic workers equal to other workers under the law. Read 28 March 2013 news article. A new law furthers the existing rights for social protection of domestic workers, and includes establishing an eight-hour workday, compensation for lay over and payment for extra hours, and crèche benefits for those with children under 5. Learn more.
  • Law drafted to protect domestic workers across Arab States of the Gulf - The Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf hope to have a common law to regulate the domestic sector workforce, including maids, so they could have a unified job contract format for house helps. Read the 25 March 2013 story.

WIEGO gathers news about domestic workers from around the globe and posts it to our News & Events section.

Domestic Workers Rally in Thailand

In Their Own Voices

  • "C:189 - Conventional Wisdom" – A trailer and short of this film are available.
  • Organizing the Patience Industry: Profile of a Domestic Worker in Maputo, Mozambique by Ruth Castel-Branco (WIEGO Workers' Lives No. 3).
  • Domestic Workers Count Too: Implementing Protections for Domestic Workers is based on personal testimonies of workers from Bolivia, New York State, USA, the Philippines and South Africa. This ITUC-UN Women briefing kit encourages all governments to take measures to ensure domestic workers are recognized and protected by law. Read more about this resource.
  • New publication looks at the well-being of child domestic workers in six countries – Costa Rica, India, Peru, Philippines, Tanzania and Togo. Almost 1,500 child domestic workers were interviewed in the course of research for this Anti-Slavery International publication. Read Home Truths: Wellbeing and Vulnerabilities of Child Domestic Workers.
  • The International Domestic Workers Network (IDWN) website contains features and updates on the global fight for domestic workers' rights.

Domestic Workers in Jamaica Rally

The Ongoing Fight and Continuing Hardship

The fight for domestic workers' rights continues, with domestic workers making gains in some arenas, but still facing extreme hardship in others. 

  • Joint campaign to end abuse of domestic workers in Lebanon - More than 200,000 migrant domestic workers in Lebanon face potential exploitative and abusive working and living conditions. The sponsorship (kafala) system makes a worker dependent upon one employer for her legal status – and encourages employers to lock the worker in the house, withhold her passport, and violate other basic human rights. Five Lebanese NGOs have launched the "Fi Shi Ghalat" (Something Is Wrong) campaign to raise awareness of the negative consequences of the sponsorship system on both employers and migrant domestic workers. Read more and see campaign resources.
  • Domestic Workers protest in India - A minimum wage of 50 rupees per hour, weekly time off, medical benefits and paid holidays were some of the demands made by domestic workers, who held a massive demonstration in Chennai, India to demand a national policy for domestic workers. Read about the 27 March 2013 event.
  • Ecudaorian domestic workers still fight for their rights - Two years ago, Ecuadorians voted “yes” on a referendum question to require the employers of dependant workers (mainly live-in maids or nannies) to sign up their employees to the social insurance system (IESS) and pay the required dues and minimum wages, but more is needed to ensure compliance. Read a 27 March 2013 article.
  • Hong Kong's top court has ruled migrant domestic workers are not eligible to apply for permanent residency.
  • In Singapore at least nine domestic workers have died – most Indonesian women – by falling from highrise buildings this year while washing windows or hanging laundry poles. Read story.
  • Recent research conducted by Human Rights Watch on domestic workers (mainly in Asia and the Middle East) found similarities across continents of the kinds of issues they face, said Liesl Gerntholtz, the Director of the Women's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch. But she says even though there are huge violations against some domestic workers, there has been progress.