Statement by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka on the fifth anniversary of the Domestic Workers Convention


There are 67 million domestic workers worldwide, 80 per cent of whom are women, according to the latest estimates from the International Labour Organization (ILO). This is a significant community, many of whom have left their homes and families to take up their positions in far-away cities within their countries of origin or in different countries altogether. Positive changes in their status, security and earnings can be far-reaching, but so far too few countries have institutionalized decent work for this group.

Historically, domestic workers have been virtually invisible; working behind closed doors, they are in a subordinate and dependent relationship with the families that employ them. The terms and conditions of work are often individually negotiated by their employers, and, without formal recourse or protection from the state, there is widespread exploitation. Too few countries have legislation in place that protects domestic workers. For example, about 30 per cent of domestic workers are excluded from national labour legislation and 43 per cent are not covered by minimum wage legislation. Violations of domestic workers’ human rights include work done for low or no wages, excessive hours, and schedules that do not include a weekly day of rest. The wages of domestic workers, like other care workers, are systematically under-valued compared to non-care jobs that require similar levels of skill and education – what is known as a ‘care penalty’. In addition, many domestic workers are subject to physical, sexual and psychological abuse.

This is why the ILO Convention No. 189 concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers is so significant. It affirms and builds upon a simple concept: domestic workers are entitled to and should enjoy the same rights as any other worker, in line with Articles 23 and 24 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

After years of campaigning by workers’ organizations, trade unions, governments and employers from around the world, the International Labour Conference on 16 June 2011 adopted the Convention, and Recommendation No. 201, which provides guidance to governments on how to strengthen protection for domestic workers, particularly in the workplace.

By ensuring that domestic workers enjoy the same basic rights as other workers— including days off, reasonable limitations on work hours, minimum wage, and social security—the implementation of the Domestic Workers Convention can improve the lives of a category of workers that historically has been discriminated against, and neglected in national labour laws.

By guaranteeing job protection and a minimum wage for millions of women, the Convention is an important contributor to the realization of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In particular it contributes to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 10 to reduce inequality within and among countries. Many of the Articles in Convention 189 directly relate to SDG targets, for example the right to a safe and healthy working environment (article 13 and SDG target 8.8); and the right to social security (article 14 and SDG target 1.3).

Given that four-fifths of domestic workers worldwide are women, promoting and protecting the human rights of domestic workers is a key step towards gender equality and the achievement of Planet 50-50 by 2030.

Despite these potential gains, so far only 22 countries have ratified Convention 189. In commemoration of the fifth anniversary of the Domestic Workers Convention, UN Women urges countries to ratify and implement the Convention. This is an important step towards building more equal and gender-responsive labour markets and societies and a vital step for women.