Address by Michelle Bachelet on the Occasion of the Adoption of the ILO Convention and Recommendation on Domestic Workers

Date: Monday, June 13, 2011

Speech delivered by UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet at the conclusion of the session of the ILO Domestic Workers Committee held 13 June 2011 at the Palais des Nations, Geneva.

[Check against delivery.]

Honourable Ministers, Excellencies, Distinguished Colleagues,

I would like to congratulate all of you — representatives of governments, employers and their organizations, trade unions, domestic workers organizations and other civil society groups — for your determined work and unflinching commitment to secure decent work for domestic workers.

The adoption of the text of the first proposed ILO Convention and Recommendation by the Committee on Domestic Workers would represent a sign of hope and confidence.

Decent work for domestic workers is an issue of particular concern to UN Women. Domestic work is one of the oldest and most important occupations for millions of people around the world, mainly women, often from disadvantaged groups, and an important source of livelihood for their families.

Decent work deficits for this category of workers are huge and can no longer be tolerated. In drawing up our Strategic Plan we identified women's economic empowerment as one of our thematic priorities, committing to work with ILO and others to provide support to governments on opportunities for decent work, asset-building and extension of labour protections for women workers, including women migrant workers and domestic workers.

With the confidence in the final adoption by the International Labour Conference of the proposed ILO Convention and Recommendation on Domestic Workers, UN Women commits to support the ratification of the Convention and promote the inclusion of its principles and rights in the formulation and implementation of policies, legislation and programmes that promote decent work for domestic workers at country level.

The huge preparatory work which has culminated in the proposed new standards on domestic workers has stimulated the gathering of information and data on the numbers of domestic workers across the world, and has generated debates on the link between domestic work and development and discussions on the concerns of domestic workers and why they need to be protected.

The ILO estimates that domestic workers make up between about 4 and 10 percent of the labour force of developing countries and about 2 percent of the workforce in industrialized countries. Behind these figures there are people, most often a woman or girl who works tirelessly so others can engage in paid employment, enhance material and emotional well-being, enjoy reduced workloads, and live in relative degrees of comfort.

Where State investments in child care, care of the elderly, ill and other social services are insufficient, domestic work permits reconciling work and family. In short, domestic work renews and sustains society; it keeps the economic engine and social wheels of society moving. If all those who did domestic work were to cease doing so one day, society would grind to a halt.

The social and economic value of domestic work, including its contribution to the household quality of life and its impacts on the overall productivity, has been clearly undervalued. But because it is normally performed in the private domestic sphere and perceived as requiring no special skills, domestic work is not considered “productive, even when paid for and provided to others.

It is excluded from labour and social protection laws in about 40 percent of countries worldwide. The lack of legal and social protections in many countries — and failure to implement such protections where they exist — makes care workers vulnerable to various forms of discrimination and abuse, including sexual abuse and trafficking, non-payment of wages, confiscation of travel and identity documents, denial of rest periods, overtime, sick leave and holiday leave.

Those who return to their places of origin with no savings risk stigmatization by families and communities, because of long periods of separation and lack of appropriate facilities for reintegration. They may also find the same lack of jobs, poverty and social exclusion that prompts a new cycle of internal or overseas migration.

The flip side of this scenario is the resilience and determination of these women to find ways to survive, and even thrive.

Women are often the lifelines of their families and communities at home and abroad, contributing to development by way of their skills, labour, consumption and tax expenditures, financial and social remittances.

Colleagues and Friends,

The proposed ILO Convention and Recommendation on Decent Work for Domestic Workers is setting a historic precedent in that it defines domestic care work as “work, makes domestic work integral to the development agenda, and lays out global minimum standards of protection for domestic work within the framework of the decent work agenda, providing the parameters within which to act as committed governments, responsible employers and workers.

In closing I want to reiterate that UN Women will work closely with the ILO, other UN agencies, governments and all relevant stakeholders to support the implementation of labour and social protections for domestic workers. This is not only the right thing to do. This is a matter of social justice and dignity. This is a long-awaited recognition for the extraordinary work done by 52.6 million women and men domestic workers worldwide. They simply deserve it.