On the Future of Domestic and Caring Labour: Lessons from the ILC Deliberations on the ILO Convention on Domestic Work

By Liberty Chee - 20 December 2023
On the Future of Domestic and Caring Labour: Lessons from the ILC Deliberations on the ILO Convention on Domestic Work

As the world is rapidly ageing, there will be an unprecedented demand for domestic and caring labour, for which many countries are currently not prepared. The low status and difficult living and working conditions of this type of work do not make it attractive. The ILO Convention on Domestic Work is a labour standard-setting instrument which calls for the formal recognition of this sector. These standards call for labour rights and social protections which would help improve working conditions. At present, there are only 37 ratifying countries, half of which are in Latin America. This means that the majority of the 76 million-strong workforce are working with little to no legal and social protections, leading to labour exploitation and human rights violations. Those who are living and working in a country not their own are especially at risk. The piece will explain some of the problems that arise from the invisibility of domestic work from national laws, including issues to do with migration policies. The essay specifically focuses on some of these problems as discussed in the International Labour Conferences in 2010 and 2011, during which the instrument was deliberated. It will also give some actionable recommendations (apart from ratifying the Convention itself).

Policy Recommendations

  • Ratifying the ILO Convention on Domestic work is an important step in formalising domestic work, legitimising and valorising it as work like any other. The Convention itself is an important tool to guide national legislation and aid in public advocacy for various stakeholders.
  • Domestic work – both paid and unpaid - needs to be made visible in order to acknowledge its public value. This can be done through governments’ statistical data collection. This data is useful not only to formalise the sector, but also to craft policies in relation to care needs and public welfare.
  • With or without C189, states should nevertheless initiate changes that would formalise domestic work. Domestic workers comprise an important labour constituency in countries around the world. Their formal recognition is crucial to enable freedom of association and collective bargaining. These labour rights are needed to improve living and working conditions. The human element of domestic and caring labour means that these conditions are directly related to the quality of care to recipients.
  • Differences in national standards and policies make it difficult to address issues between countries that send and receive migrants. The Convention is a good place to find solutions to harmonise standards for both high and low-rights contexts.


Photo by Pixabay from Pexels