Deductions from wages for food and housing penalize domestic workers, even when living in the employer’s household is a requirement that primarily benefits the household. The right to maternity protection is another key concern. More than a third of all female domestic workers are not entitled to maternity leave and associated cash benefits. The coverage gaps are particularly large in the Middle East and Asia. Even where domestic workers are included in social insurance schemes that provide maternity benefits, restrictive eligibility criteria or lack of enforcement can hamper access to benefits in practice.
The main international instruments covering domestic workers are an ILO convention and recommendation on domestic work adopted in 2011, which will come into force in September. The convention sets a standard for equal treatment between domestic and general workers on weekly normal work hours, time off and holidays.
Several countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and parts of the industrialized world have already extended to domestic workers the same minimum protections that apply to workers generally, but Asia and the Middle East need to do more, according to the ILO.
“The large disparities between wages and working conditions of domestic workers compared to other workers in the same country underline the need for action at the national level by governments, employers and workers to improve the working lives of these vulnerable, but hard-working individuals,” Polaski said.