Decent work for domestic workers – background note

Decent work for domestic workers – background note

Background note – Maid in Luxembourg, 05/02/2020

Domestic work

Domestic work is work performed in or for a household or households. Domestic work is one of the least protected sectors under national labour law, which is strange because at the same time there are 67 million domestic workers in the world, of which 83% are women.

Who is a domestic worker?

A domestic worker is someone who works in her/his employer’s household.

This is the first peculiarity of the domestic sector: the paradoxical link between the public sphere and the private nature of work. In most cases domestic work is undervalued. Even if in most countries there is a law protecting this category of workers, domestic workers are subjected to abuses and sometimes slavery. Most of the time a domestic worker is a migrant worker; meaning a person left his/her home country to work abroad. Some migrant workers work illegally, some migrant workers work in slavery-like conditions. 

Key International Legal Instruments
Pertaining to the Protection of Domestic Workers.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948.

This non-binding instrument establishes the overriding principles of equality and non-discrimination applicable to everyone, everywhere and always (Art. 2).

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966.
This international law instrument is binding upon signatory states.
Prohibits slavery and slave trade in all their forms as well as forced labour. (Art 8).

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1966.
This international law instrument recognises the right of everyone to the enjoyment of equal and satisfactory working conditions. The right to form trade unions and join them, and the right to enjoy social security, including social insurance and maternity leave. (Art 7 – 10)

UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, 1979.
This International law instrument establishes the obligation of all the State Parties to work for the elimination of discrimination against women in the field of employment. (Art 11)
General Recommendation No. 17: Recommends considering the unremunerated domestic activities of women as a contribution to the gross national product.
General Recommendation No. 26:
Considers that countries of destination should ensure that migrant women workers enjoy the same rights as national women workers.

Under the combined sixth and seventh periodic report of Luxembourg the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women expressed its concern at the fact that women domestic workers are still not fully covered by social and labour protections and explicitly requests Luxembourg to expedite the ratification of the ILO convention (no. 189) : see Concluding observations para 41 (d) and 42 (d) 

The ILO Convention on Domestic Workers, 2011 (No.189)
This Convention does not distinguish between nationals and non-nationals employed as domestic workers and it constitutes an important step towards gender equality.
Relevant Articles include the following:
Migrant domestic workers:
Requires members to establish that migrant domestic workers receive a written contract enforceable in the country of employment, or a written job offer, prior to travelling to the country of employment (does not apply to migrant domestic workers who are already within the territory of the country of employment). (Art. 8 (1))
Requires States to specify the conditions under which domestic workers are entitled to repatriation at the end of their employment. Art. 8 (4):

Remuneration:
Each Member shall take measures to ensure that domestic workers enjoy minimum wage coverage, where such coverage exists, and that remuneration is established without discrimination based on sex. (Art. 11)
Modalities of Payment
Domestic workers shall be paid directly in cash at regular intervals at least once a month. Unless provided for by national laws, regulations or collective agreements, payment may be made by bank transfer, bank cheque, postal cheque, money order or other lawful means of monetary payment, with the consent of the worker concerned. (Art 12).

The EU Approach to the Protection of  Domestic Workers

The role of domestic workers in Europe is closely linked to issues surrounding atypical and undeclared work, migration and integration, and the provision of adequate public services. The European Parliament has made some attempt at addressing the issue through an own-initiative report and the passing of a resolution in 2016.
Within this resolution the following terms were agreed upon by the Plenary :

– to make the necessary efforts to step up inspections, and to find innovative inspection methods which respect privacy.
– organise campaigns among the general public to improve visibility and enhance understanding of the benefits of regularised domestic work and care.
– launch campaigns to raise awareness of the rights and duties of domestic and care workers and employers and the risks and impact of exploitation in the domestic work sector.
– put in place, in collaboration with social partners, information channels on the rights of domestic workers and carers (helplines and websites providing assistance);
– consider incentives for employers to encourage the use of declared domestic workers and carers.

Recent Development in Luxembourg Pertaining to Domestic Workers and Risks of  Exploitation and Trafficking 

In the second report on human trafficking in Luxembourg published by the Consultative Committee on Human Rights (Commission Consultative des Droits de l’Homme – CCDH) in 2019, several references were made regarding the state of protection provided for domestic workers in Luxembourg.
At page 9, the CCDH focus on the fact that human trafficking is increasing in the work sector especially HORECA and domestic work. According to the information available to the rapporteur, all victims exploited as domestic workers in the period 2017-2018 are women. At page 27, the report explains that „people whose situation is irregular, people who ask for international protection and the refugees, seasonal workers, temporary workers and domestic workers are more susceptible to be in a situation with risk of exploitation and human trafficking because of their precarious situation“. At page 29, the Committee explains that domestic workers are often working in an informal situation, which makes them more vulnerable to abuses. Moreover the CCDH remembers that the government of Luxembourg still has to ratify the Convention n.189 concerning the treatment of domestic workers (ILO convention ut supra).

Arron Mc Ardle

Laura Colò

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