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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.



1. Who are Migrant Domestic Workers in Europe?

Increasingly in Europe, the focus is on the provision of care for both children - where both

parents work outside the home - and of older people - within the context of Europe’s ageing

population. Since the 80s and 90s and continuing in this first decade of the new century,

there is an increased demand for affordable care services in the private home. But who is to

do this work, particularly given the broader framework of concern about more general

labour shortages as a result of demographic trends?


Migration has been proposed as part of a solution to this employment gap. However the

work of domestic and care services in the private home still remain categorised mainly as

“unskilled” and is not recognised in many countries as a category for immigration. Thus

migrant workers who come to work in the private home in the EU are only allowed to enter

in some countries on temporary visas or come as tourists. In this context, the worker is faced

with an unsustainable status as a worker and frequently becomes undocumented.

Work in the private home is highly unregulated. Globally as well as here in Europe it is

notoriously open to abuse and to violation of basic human rights as has been well

documented. In the context where the workers are migrants and undocumented, their

working and living conditions are highly vulnerable and subject to systematic violation of

their labour and human rights.


2. Who are Migrant Domestic Workers in Europe?

Migrant domestic workers (MDWs) work in private households in roles which include

childcare, eldercare, cleaning and cooking. Migrant workers tend to concentrate in live-in

work, which is particularly unpopular with EU nationals, and where employers may prefer

to employ foreign workers on lower wages. However, migrants also live out, making a

living by working for several employers. They come from many different countries of origin

(from Asia, Africa and Latin America and more recently from Eastern Europe and CIS

countries. Different nationalities may cluster in certain EU states – in Spain for example,

Peruvian or Dominican Republic domestic workers are more common than in the UK.

Domestic workers are predominantly female, but not exclusively, and indeed male domestic

workers, who may be preferred in certain contexts where heavy lifting is required for

example, are particularly invisible. MDWs themselves, may range from the young to those

more senior who have not yet retired but who have worked most of their lives as domestic

workers in Europe.


3. What is the immigration status of Migrant Domestic Workers?

Despite the growing demand for their labour, a coherent EU strategy has not been

developed around immigration and domestic work/childcare/ eldercare. This means that

migrant domestic workers have a wide range of immigration statuses. This depends on their

nationality and on the EU state in which they are residing and working. For non-EU

migrants there are three “types” of immigration status that MDWs may have:

• they may be working on a visa that requires them to work in private households as is

the case in Spain, and Italy as well as ‘au pair’ visa holders in the Netherlands. Or they

may have access to the labour market for example with a student visa in the UK which

allows people to work 20 hours a week.

• they may be residing legally but working in breach of conditions attached to their visa

(e.g. a tourist visa holder who is not allowed to work, or a student visa holder who is

working more than 20 hours a week)

• they may be residing as undocumented migrants (e.g. overstayers).


4. What are the Living and Working conditions of Migrant Domestic Workers?

The work of Migrant Domestic Workers (MDWs) takes place in the private household, a

place, which is often exempt from labour laws and where typically trades unions do not

have access. MDWs are often exploited by the families they work for, and many face

psychological, physical, sexual, and racist harassment from their employers and their

employers’ children.


Several research studies have demonstrated that working conditions in the private

household lead to violations of labour and fundamental human rights both in situations

where the immigration status and labour conditions have recently changed (as in the UK in

and in Greece in 1997) as well as in countries which do not recognise domestic work as

proper work or a category for immigration as in The Netherlands and in Germany