16 June: International Domestic Workers Day
Each year, on International Domestic Workers Day, thousands of domestic workers raise their voices, join in solidarity and hold events across the world to celebrate a very significant moment in the lives of the 67 million domestic workers across the globe: on the 16 June 2011 the International Labour Organization adopted Convention No.189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers, which gave them the right to be recognized as workers, with the basic rights of all other workers. A ground-breaking Convention which to date has been ratified only by a minority of countries, especially when we look at Europe.
The Convention sets out rights for all those providing paid services such as cooking, taking care of children, the elderly and the disabled, tending to the garden or pets, or driving the family car. They may work part time, full time, and may or may not live in the home of their employer. However, domestic work is defined according to the workplace, which is the household.
The ILO Convention 189 protects the rights of all domestic workers, including international migrants. International migrants, whose majority (around 74%) are women, represent a significant proportion of workers, especially in Europe, and are often undocumented. In Europe it is particularly worrying to see how the market-oriented care provision creates a growing demand for a migrant labour force employed to work long hours, in bad working conditions, for very low wages with limited labour and social rights in comparison to other working sectors. Within this scenario, conditions of irregularity are widespread. This irregularity concerns two related dimensions: irregularity in migration status, and irregularity in employment and working conditions.In fact, the specificities of domestic work (taking place inside the home, often with non-fixed hours and tasks) when intertwined with undocumented migration status and informal work arrangements can lead to particularly exploitative conditions of work and situations of extreme vulnerability.
In practice, in many European countries it is still difficult, if at all possible, to legally hire a migrant domestic worker. Domestic workers lack ad hoc legal protection in countries such as Greece, the UK, Denmark, Spain and the Netherlands. Poland does not actually recognize it as proper work, relegating it to a ‘personal service’. Moreover, in countries like Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands and Germany, it is not possible for households to hire a foreigner in a legal way. In Belgium, France and Spain, by contrast, although this is possible in principle, it is actually made impossible by the strict application of regulations against the employment of foreigners in low-skilled labour markets. Also, in many European countries intra-EU and other regular migrant domestic workers also often face irregular and exploitative conditions at the hands of employers and recruitment agencies, especially in the case of circular workers. This has important implications for migrants’ households.
More information about the International Domestic Workers Day and ILO C189
Can be found in these videos, both realized in collaboration with the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF):
Ten years of C189 (produced by ERC Project DomEQUAL 2022).
Domestic Workers Speak (produced by Open Democracy Beyond Trafficking and Slavery, 2019),
About International Domestic Workers Federation:
IDWF plays a crucial role in promoting domestic workers rights across the globe, and represents 88 affiliates and over 670,000 domestic workers worldwide.
This year you can join IDWF’s online celebration for International Domestic Workers Day on the 18th of June at this webinar.