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Introduction and Key Recommendations for an ILO Convention on Domestic Work 

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Submitted by R.E.S.P.E.C.T Network

Campaigning for the Rights of Migrant Domestic Workers in Europe and Internationally

Amsterdam, May 2009

Summary on proposed Key recommendations

In the European context therefore, RESPECT highlights the following key

considerations in preparing the proposed ILO Instruments:


1) The recognition of Domestic work: The recognition of domestic work as

proper work and the inclusion of all domestic workers (women and men,

young or old, national citizen or migrant, live-in or live-out) as an integral part

of the workforce with an immigration status that recognises migrant domestic



2) Comprehensive legal protections: Labour legislation that applies to all other

workers to be applied to the domestic workers and to ensure equal protection

under the law – related to written contracts, agreed wages, hours of work and

rest, health insurance and other social benefits, freedom of mobility and to

form self-organisations and join trade unions, freedom to change employers, as

well as provisions covering the unique circumstance of live-in domestic

workers regarding living conditions and privacy.

3) Effective mechanisms of enforcement of labour legislation: This should

include instruments protection against unjust termination; against the risks of

homelessness of live-in domestic workers; paid holidays and sick leave days.

4) Effective protection for migrant domestic workers: Migrant domestic workers

should have a work permit independent of their employer to ensure avoidance

of abuse and violation of rights regularly experienced in ‘tied’ employment.

Domestic work is not a category for migration in most European countries.

Therefore while migrant workers are on the one hand delivering an enormous

contribution – economically and socially - to needed and important work in


European societies, on the other hand they are vulnerable to exploitation (such

as long hours of work, low payment and to personal abuse by members of the

families) as a consequence of the separation of juridical residence and work



5) Effective protection for Domestic Workers in the employment of the

Diplomatic corps: Domestic workers in the employment of the Diplomatic

corps should be protected by existing and new labour legislation and be able to

access legal redress in the case of unjust or abusive treatment. Specific

mechanisms should be put in place ensuring a judicial process in relation to

diplomats who are responsible for abusing their domestic workers.


6) Effective protection for ‘au pairs’: This is a particularly vulnerable sector of

people who work in the private home. It has been a practice to accept that au

pairs undertake “light household work” as exchange for accommodation while

undertaking a cultural exchange. However there is increasing evidence that

this framework is exploited to access a flexible and cheap source of domestic

workers. The ‘au pair’ framework should therefore be strongly regulated.

7) Provisions to protect domestic workers against physical, sexual and

psychological violence: These provisions include access to immediate and

confidential redress as well as support for and access to legal redress.



What is the RESPECT Campaign for the rights of Migrant Domestic Workers?

The RESPECT network facilitates the empowerment of MDWs as main actors in the

campaign for their rights as a sector. As a common campaign strategy, RESPECT member

organisations pursue the following objectives:

• Recognition of work in the private household as proper work

• Ensuring the protection of the rights of all MDWs as workers, whether live-in or liveout

• Putting in place an immigration status related to their work as migrant domestic



At the national level, where immigration law is still determined in the EU, this campaign is

contextualised according to the prevailing immigration regime and the policy on work and

resident visas applied to migrants undertaking work in the private household as indicated in

point 2 above.

Even where migrant domestic workers have regular work visas, it is clear that work in the

private household remains vulnerable to abuse as is seen in the research carried out both by

Kalayaan even after the change in UK immigration in policy in 1979 (Box 1) and by KASAPIHellas

in Greece (Box 2). Additionally, the immigration status of MDWs (often hard won in

long campaigns) is often arbitrarily put under pressure when additional changes in

immigration legislation is being planned.


Both at national and international level, RESPECT regards working with Trade Unions as a

high priority. Throughout the development of the campaign for the rights of MDWs, Trade

Unions have responded and opened membership to this vulnerable sector of workers.

RESPECT member organisations have consistently worked with the trade unions and

together we have been able to achieve changes in labour and immigration legislation and

gain significant breakthroughs for the rights of MDWs – in the UK, Greece, Spain, Italy, and

most recently in Ireland.


In Switzerland, the Geneva Forum for Philippine Concerns (GFPC) together with other

migrant organisations in the Contact Centre Swiss Immigrants (CCSI) campaigned with the

Trade Union Syndicat Interprofessionnel de Travailleuses (SIT) achieved a “Procuration” in

2005, whereby the Geneva government allows undocumented migrants to continue to live

and work if they demonstrate membership of SIT. In a related development, SIT also

provides integrated services for its members, including health care and access to social



In 2006, the ABVAKABO FNV trade union in the Netherlands has also opened its

membership to MDWs and in early 2009 the MDW membership has been Bondgenoten

FNV. The International Trade Union Centre (ITUC) also called4 its affiliates to ensure

representatives of the countries on the ILO Governing body support the proposal to draw up

an International Convention specifically to protect domestic workers.

RESPECT and its network members actively campaign for the ratification of the UN

Convention for the Rights of all Migrant Workers and members of their Families as the most

comprehensive International Instrument so far protecting and defending the Rights of

MDWs. We have also held a Dialogue with the UN Special Rapporteur on Migrants

(September 2004 ) and also with the Special Rapporteur on the Convention on the

Elimination of Discrimination against Women (2007) and campaigned for the CEDAW

General Recommendation 27.

At this time we welcome the initiative of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to

develop a Convention on Domestic Work in 2011. Since October 2008, RESPECT together

with the Asian Domestic Workers Alliance (ADWA) and Migrant Forum in Asia is actively

participating in the preparatory global campaign that is emerging around this initiative.

Here in Europe, we are working together with Trade Unions to ensure a strong rights based

ILO Convention which will change the international legislative regime on Domestic work

and guarantee the rights of all workers in the private household, including Migrant

Domestic Workers.