Chihoko Asada-Miyakawa

Bangkok ●
Tue 15 June 2021

domestic worker, ILO convention, protection, ratification

When I took up my post as Regional Director of the International Labor Organization (ILO) in Bangkok, domestic workers were at the forefront of my mind. Not only is the Asia-Pacific region home to half of the world’s domestic workers, this group of workers exists at the crossroads of so many areas of personal interest: workers’ rights, health and housing, international cooperation and governance of migration. .

For many of us, it is impossible to think about the issue of domestic work without emotion. Many of those reading this will have had close relationships with domestic workers: in childhood, as a life support for the household later in life, or for those with special care needs. Others will have been able to provide for their families or earn additional income from the wages of domestic work.

Domestic workers do so much for us. They keep us safe, comfortable, well fed and allow us to work outside our homes. When we look at domestic work in our own experience, it is often in such a positive light. The emotional bonds that form when sharing a home and the feeling that domestic workers are ‘part of the family’ are aspects of this job that make it ‘work like no other’.

However, in 2011, the adoption of the ILO Convention on Domestic Workers finally recognized that domestic work is also “a job like any other”. Known as Convention 189, it was the first international instrument to establish that, despite all the very specific and personal experiences of domestic work, domestic workers deserve protection just like all other workers.

The convention gave new impetus to domestic workers and their allies who have fought for years to ensure that domestic workers have the right to basic labor rights such as access to the minimum wage, safe working conditions and protection. against discrimination. This international recognition remains particularly critical, because we know that 10 years later, many domestic workers are still underpaid, overworked, harassed and exploited.

This year, the ILO has reviewed how far it has come over the past decade in achieving the goals of the Domestic Workers Convention. Despite some progress – notably the Philippines have ratified the Convention and several other countries in the region have improved legal protection for domestic workers – we still have a long way to go before we achieve decent work for domestic workers in the Asia region. -Peaceful.

There are a myriad of reasons why we must use this anniversary to reinvigorate our commitment to improving conditions for domestic work. In the global push to empower women, domestic work plays a crucial role. The vast majority of domestic workers are women and the sector provides employment opportunities for those who may have low qualifications and migrant women who may not be able to access the labor market in their country and are at such great risk. to seize these opportunities.

More generally, it is not difficult to see how the different intersections of social and gender norms have influenced the status of domestic work and domestic workers in society. Homework is traditionally unpaid and is not considered economically interesting work. Because the home has generally not been considered a ‘place of work’, many countries still do not include domestic work as a formal job, which means that domestic work is not yet recognized as a place of work. job in labor legislation.

The informality of domestic work contributes to its invisibility, which in turn creates a situation where the plight of domestic workers is more easily overlooked. When domestic work remains informal, workplaces are not registered, working conditions are not monitored, and domestic workers’ access to social security, income protection and even the COVID-19 vaccine is limited. . Until domestic work is truly recognized for what it is – work – it will be difficult to fully grasp the contributions of domestic workers to our wider socio-economic well-being.

We therefore urge governments to ratify the Domestic Work Convention and take the first catalytic step in recognizing the services rendered by domestic workers.

At the ILO, we stand up for this not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because the opportunities for advancement and the possibilities for changes in the sector having a transformative effect on the lives of domestic workers are immense. .

Domestic work should be seen as an even more essential source of employment in the post-COVID-19 economic recovery, as an employment-intensive sector that meets the growing needs of households for care services and provides opportunities jobs for women who have been hardest hit by the pandemic.

When domestic workers can claim their rights and domestic work is valued appropriately, we will see the benefits of a more equitable and just society. Only then can we claim that we have ‘built better’.


The writer is Deputy Director General and ILO Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific.