The ILO has just published a report called Domestic Workers Across the World which both quantifies the numbers of Domestic Workers globally and states what legal protections they have. Or probably more accurately what legal protections are they excluded from!
Based on official statistics from 117 countries there are some 52.6 million Domestic Workers worldwide. This figure although representing a substantial increase on the last estimate in 1995 nevertheless almost certainly understates the true figure. For a whole variety of reasons Domestic Workers, hidden away in private homes, are often hidden away from the state. We are also told that some 80% of these Domestic Workers are women.
The plight of many of these Domestic Workers is aptly highlighted by ILO deputy director general, Sandra Polaski:
“Domestic workers are frequently expected to work longer hours than other workers, and in many countries do not have the same rights to weekly rest that are enjoyed by other workers…Combined with the lack of rights, the extreme dependency on an employer and the isolated and unprotected nature of domestic work can render them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse”
The report makes an overwhelming case for all governments to ratify the new ILO Convention on Domestic Workers. Given that the UK abstained over the adoption of the convention it’s interesting to see what the report says about the UK. It’s also worth bearing in mind that the UK government tried to defend its position by saying UK Domestic Workers were already protected by existing UK laws.
The report estimates that based on 2008 official figures there are some 136,000 Domestic Workers in the UK – again almost certainly an underestimate. It notes that until April 2012 one of the most vulnerable groups of domestic workers, migrants who have been brought to the UK by their migrant employers, had the right to change employers; giving them away out of abusive relationships. The UK government have now taken away this important defence! The report goes on to draw an unflattering but accurate picture of the plight of Domestic Workers in today’s Britain. The UK regulations giving effect to the Working Time Directive specifically excludes Domestic Workers from its provisions, which means that UK Domestic Workers have no legal protection from being forced to work excessive hours and not being given reasonable breaks.
The UK is also identified as one of those countries in which the employment status of Domestic Workers is frequently questioned. Workers are labelled wrongly as au pairs or indeed as people living as part of the family. In either of these cases it means UK law does not view them as employees and if they are not employees they are not considered to have employment rights which can be upheld in a court.
Globally the abuse of Domestic Workers is widespread and clearly it does not stop at the UK borders. The UK government’s shameful abstention in the vote on the new convention cannot be undone but they can make amends by ratifying this body of rights for a group of very vulnerable and much abused workers.