Saturday, April 6, 2013


A female domestic worker in the time of my grandmother around 1900. You could always recognize domestic workers on their cloths and of course the basket for groceries. I found this photograph in the photo album of my grandmother. Probably she was my grandmother's friend. 

When she was young, my grandmother on father's side served as a domestic worker. It was a humiliating experience but there was no other way to gain some income for her poor family. My mother in law was also a domestic worker when she was young. Her family was also very poor. However, she had good memories of the time she worked as a domestic worker.

For the first time I learned more about domestic workers during our stay in Colombia. First in the flat of father Rosier who was travelling abroad. She was a sweet older woman who did her best to make our lives as nice as possible. Later on we stayed for a few months in a flat of a Colombian friend who was also travelling abroad. The domestic worker was a very young woman. Although we had only one domestic worker in our flat we had the feeling to belong to an old aristocratic English family like you see in the television series 'Dowton Abbey'.

As we grew up in a more or less egalitarian Dutch society with little class differences, me and my wife felt uncomfortable with a domestic worker in our house. We also had the feeling that we had no privacy anymore. It was a strange experience to eat in the sittingroom while the domestic worker was eating in the kitchen. We decided to invite the domestic worker to eat together with us, to share the same table. We then learned that this created an uneasy situation for the domestic worker. That's why we decided not to have anymore domestic workers in our house during our stay in Mexico and Costa Rica. In stead we hired somebody, to clean the house a few times a week.

We learned that wage and labour conditions for domestic workers are on a minimum level like for example a wage lower than the official minimum wage and not one day off or one day off per week. Everything depends from the family she is working for. Is it a nice and understandingly family or are they using the domestic worker as a kind of slave without no or little payment and no free days? In Indonesia I heard about the bad conditions and the abuses of Indonesian domestic workers who had migrated to the oil rich Arab countries with the aim to earn money for their family that stayed in Indonesia.


Therefore it was very good news to read that a constitutional amendment guaranteeing equal rights for domestic workers in Brazil has come into force on 2 April. “Manuela Tomei, Director of the ILO’sConditions of Work and Equality Department, welcomed the vote in the Brazilian Senate, which was passed unanimously at the end of March after being approved in the lower house.

With the passing of this law, so culminates Brazil’s process of recognizing the dignity and value of domestic work and domestic workers, who are to a large extent black women - a process which began in 1998 when, for the first time, the Constitution included a number of important labour guarantees for these workers. Today's Senate decision is one additional step towards narrowing the historical divide between the richest and "whiter" stratum of society and the poorest and "darker" lower end of the social ladder,” Tomei said.

It is particularly significant given the dramatic rise in the numbers of domestic workers in Brazil over the last few years – from 5.1 million to 6.6 million between 1995 and 2011. 17 per cent of all jobs for women are in the domestic work sector. Latin America is one of the world’s fastest growing regions in the domestic work sector.”

Global momentum

The IlO believes that because of the approval of ILO Convention 189 and recommendation 201 in 2011 has sparked a global momentum on labour legislation of domestic workers: Argentina also passed a bill in March, which limits working hours and ensures paid annual and maternity leave for domestic workers. The Indian Parliament included domestic workers in legislation to eradicate sexual harassment at work, which was passed last February.

Since the Convention’s adoption, a total of nine countries have passed new laws or regulations improving domestic workers’ labour and social rights, including Venezuela, Bahrain, the Philippines, Thailand, Spain and Singapore. Legislative reforms have also begun in Finland, Namibia, Chile and the United States, among others.

So far four countries have ratified ILO Convention 189 – Uruguay, Philippines, Mauritius and Italy. Several others have initiated the process of ratification, including South Africa, Costa Rica and Germany.

The European Commission is also pressing EU countries to implement the ILO Convention and has called for safeguards to protect young domestic workers.

Facts and figures on domestic workers
WorldwideBy region
  • 52.6 million worldwide
  • 83 per cent are women
  • 29.9 per cent are excluded from national labour legislation
  • 45 per cent have no entitlement to weekly rest periods/paid annual leave
  • More than a third of women domestic workers have no maternity protection
  • Asia and the Pacific: 21.4 million
  • Latin America and the Caribbean: 19.6 million
  • Africa: 5.2 million
  • Developed countries: 3.6 million
  • Middle East: 2.1 million

According to an ILO study from January 2013, entitled Domestic Workers Across the World, at least 52 million people around the world – mainly women – are employed as domestic workers. At the time of the research, only ten per cent were covered by general labour legislation to the same extent as other workers. More than one quarter were completely excluded from national labour legislation.

ILO legal specialist on working conditions, Martin Oelz, said that the signs are encouraging: “The Convention and Recommendation on domestic workers have effectively started to play their role as catalysts for change. Giving social dialogue a central place, these global minimum standards now serve as a starting point for devising new polices in a growing number of countries.”

The above italicized text, the map and the worldwide facts are coming from the ILO website.

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