Health, Human Rights, Lifestyle, Movement, Politiks

Domestic work: behind closed doors

Nearly 53 million people in the world are involved in domestic work. It is work with little recognition. It is a daily, endless and very difficult job.

Masiel Fernández Bolaños

Some experts believe that because this type of work is often hidden or undeclared, the total figure of people working in this type of work could reach around 100 million.

At a global level, domestic work accounts for 3.6% of salaried employment, and is a role generally assumed by women, children, and by many immigrants.

These individuals undertake a series of tasks for other people: cooking, cleaning, washing, and taking care of infants, the elderly and the disabled.

Yet, specialists signal that they are often excluded from the protection of labour legislation and social security.

This is due, in part, to the fact that chores are carried out in the household and, often involve tasks that women traditionally perform without receiving a salary.

What can be done about it?

In accordance with the International Labour Organization (ILO), there is a growing recognition of the social and economic value of domestic work, and of the need to improve its conditions.

For this reason, a number of countries have implemented, or are developing, legal and political measures.

Recently the ILO Convention on domestic workers was ratified by a second nation, the Philippines. Just a few months after Uruguay became the first to do so. The Philippines’ decision opened the way for its implementation in force within a year, having completed the minimum of countries needed to do so.

The ILO explained that the treaty extends the fundamental rights to tens of millions of people involved with an industry that continues to be under-regulated and that still belongs to the largely informal economy.

Similarly, it has established that domestic workers should have the same fundamental rights as those employed in other sectors.

Their rights include reasonable working hours, a weekly rest period of at least 24 consecutive hours, and clear information on the terms conditions of their employment.

The ILO states that the standard covers all domestic workers and includes special measures to protect those who, due to their young age, nationality or residence status, may be exposed to additional risks.

Labour market analysts believe that the recognition of the contribution of domestic workers to the global economy is still insufficient.

For that reason, they plead for innovative and creative approaches in order to protect them and, at the same time, respond to the needs of the families and households that employ them.


Europe’s situation

For the past three years, Europe has been facing a crisis that has made the labour market its main victim.

High unemployment rates reaching historic highs form part of the reality of the so-called Old Continent.

In this context, experts point out that domestic workers in Europe face a legal vacuum, because they do not enjoy the same legal protection as others. They explain that although there are many laws that protect domestic workers, some gaps in the legislation still remain and compliance with these rules is usually weak.

Labour inspectorates can only enforce existing laws, but it is not always possible to adapt them to the specificities of domestic work.

They add that failure to comply with legislation is linked to the fact that such chores are not often perceived as a form of real employment. In addition, access to private households is restricted and few domestic workers are prepared to openly denounce their employers.

As a result, the majority of labour inspectorates in Europe have not occupied much of the sector.

For that reason, specialists believe that the main challenge continues to be that many domestic workers in Europe work in the informal economy, which poses a considerable obstacle for the inspectorates to be able to prevent and penalise any form of abuse.

Since a large part of domestic workers are in the informal economy, official data does not reflect the true dimension of this type of work.

In Germany, for example, the Office of Statistics reports that there are 700,000 domestic workers, but unions put the figure of households that employ domestic workers at more than 2 million.

The ageing population of the entire European continent has resulted in an increase in the demand for this segment of the labour market.

Under these conditions, analysts consider it essential to inform people of their rights and duties, so that they are able to integrate into the formal economy and improve their protection.

Understood in the legal field, the institution of clearer rules to employ domestic workers and give them a proper status is encouraged.

It is believed that the ILO Convention on domestic workers will contribute to better protection and recognition of a profession that, even today, remains invisible.

(Translated by Caroline Gutierrez, email:

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