Domestic worker rights: Four reasons domestic workers have struggled to get ILO Convention 189 ratified and what NGOs can do to help

by 07th Apr 2014
Invisible workers Invisible workers © CARE

Today we launch our paper Making decent work a reality for domestic workers: civil society's experience of ratifying ILO Convention 189 in the Andes. Since 2010, we have been supporting domestic workers and their organisations in the Andean region to fight for their labour rights. The rights include a minimum salary, a written contract and social protection such as provisions for maternity leave.


Our paper is based on research carried out last year in Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru which aimed to understand the conditions of the workers themselves and their advocacy efforts to ratify ILO Convention 189 which, for the first time, stipulated state-supported protection for domestic workers.

Read our briefing paper

Problem 1: Domestic workers struggle to organise themselves into representative groups to claim their rights collectively.

What can we do about it? Support domestic workers’ organisations to reach out to unaffiliated workers, building awareness so that they know and understand their rights, the benefits of joining an association or a union, and the support systems that are available for them.

Problem 2: Domestic workers and their rights have low recognition. Low levels of affiliation to organisations mean that, as a group, domestic workers are often invisible to the general public, government or general labour unions. This means too that they are often unable to adequately represent their interests in public spaces.

What can we do about it? Support domestic workers to launch campaigns to shift public attitudes about the value of their work. Help domestic workers’ organisations to improve their links with workers’ unions and other social movements, so that they have advocates to champion their cause in public spaces where they have no access. Reach out to non-traditional actors such as housewives’ associations and identify synergies (e.g. around unpaid care work) so that they can be allies rather than adversaries.

Problem 3: Domestic workers’ organisations have low human and financial resources, which significantly limits their capacity to effectively advocate for their rights.

What can we do about it? Various civil society organisations have the capacity to provide legal aid and support training to build advocacy skills, but they themselves have resource constraints which prevent them from offering this support consistently, leaving the bulk of the workload for only a handful of partners. It is imperative to ensure that there is better resource coordination to make this support as effective as possible.

Problem 4: Even if governments express support for domestic workers, they often don’t have capacity to live up to commitments that they enshrine into law.

What can we do about it? To make commitments stick, we also need to improve state capacity for service delivery. This means providing technical assistance to labour ministeries and other units such as ombudsmen and human rights commissions. Civil society organisations and the domestic worker organisations themselves can play a role generating data and accompaniment of cases where rights violations have been identified to put pressure on the local administration to lobby central government for adequate budgets and staffing to ensure manageable and deliverable caseloads for public servants.

Tom Aston

Tom was the monitoring, evaluation and research lead for the inclusive governance team. He particularly looked at the application of theory-based evaluation methods such as contribution tracing and outcome mapping.

He joined CARE International UK in 2012, providing support to the Latin America and the Caribbean and Middle East and North Africa regions, particularly in conducting political economy analyses, and conducting studies on social accountability and advocacy.

He has an MSc in Development Administration and Planning from University College London (UCL) and is doing a PhD on the political economy of cash transfers, with Bolivia as a case study. Previously he worked for CARE Bolivia and as a consultant for the ODI and UCL on issues of social protection and disaster risk reduction.

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