Right to Work: Domestic Worker’s Protection as Vulnerable Group


The ILO defines domestic workers as those who work in private homes and for employers. These jobs include cleaning, cooking, washing and ironing clothes, caring for family members, children, elderly or sick, gardening, looking after the house, driving for the family, and even caring for pets. Domestic workers are classified as a type of informal work. The relationship between employers and workers is a special relationship outside of labour regulations in general. The ILO estimates the number of domestic workers globally to be 76 million people and 76% of them are women.[1] From the Indonesian view, the number of domestic workers recorded is 2.6 million people and 90% of them are women.[2] There are many factors make women take steps to become domestic workers, one of which is unsupportive economic and environmental factors. In the stigma that develops in society, domestic work is a woman’s responsibility and is considered ‘unreal’ work. Therefore, the protection mechanism of domestic workers needs to be better done and is very different from the formal working relationship.

It is marked by the lack of a state regulating domestic workers’ protection. The ILO report shows that 61.5% of domestic workers in the Asia and Pacific region are excluded from the scope of national labour legislation, with 84.3% being in the informal employment sector including Indonesia.[3] Although on the International level, it has explicitly been regulated in the ILO Convention No. 189, the Domestic Workers Convention, but many countries still need to ratify it. The absence of national regulations that regulate and protect domestic workers has caused many problems. The problems that arise due to the lack of protection for domestic workers are the absence of social security, health insurance, inhumane working hours, gender discrimination, heavy workload, criminal offense, and sexual harassment. Globally, 81% of domestic workers do not receive social and labour protection.[4] Then, the ILO noted that out of 70 countries, 40% do not have a leave guarantee mechanism for domestic workers.[5]  So that domestic workers are classified as vulnerable groups that must be given protection. One form of the lack of protection for domestic workers is that during the Covid-19 pandemic, the impact of unilateral termination of work for domestic workers without severance pay. This condition is also the reason why employers do not pay domestic worker’s wages due to the Covid-19 pandemic which has resulted in a decline in their income and economic cycle.

Within the framework of international law, protecting domestic workers is the state’s responsibility. It is in line with the responsibilities mandated by international conventions. The state’s commitment to protecting domestic workers can be seen from the participation of states binding themselves to the Convention with instruments of ratification. This responsibility is the protection of the right to work for domestic workers. The right to work is one of the fundamental rights of every human being guaranteed by Article 23 paragraph (1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Articles in the UDHR are a mandate to countries to be used as guidelines in the enforcement of human rights. Then a more comprehensive norm regarding the right to work is set out in Article 6 of The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) which reads, “The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right to work, which includes the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his living by work which he freely chooses or accepts,  and will take appropriate steps to safeguard this right”.

Furthermore, as an organization engaged in labour, the ILO regulates the protection of domestic workers in conducting labour relations in the ILO Convention No. 189, Domestic Workers Convention globally. The Convention contains fundamental principles and requires states to make work feasible for domestic workers. The Convention also establishes minimum labour standards for domestic workers to create the protection of human rights and decent work.

The right to work is essential because it forms an inseparable part of other rights. Other rights are the assessment of decent work for everyone, in this case, a domestic worker. Decent work is also one of the goals that will be achieved globally through the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) in number 8, namely, Decent Work and Economic Growth. Addressing the deficit of decent work in informal employment, as part of a broader effort towards economic formalization, is a priority for global progress. The fundamental rights that describe decent work in ILO Convention No. 189 Domestic Workers Convention are as follows:

Protection of human rights for all domestic workers

The protection of human rights for domestic workers is contained in the Preamble and Article 3 of the Convention. This protection contains guarantees for the elimination of forced labour, discrimination, the elimination of child labour, protection from all forms of abuse and violence, and meets the sense of justice for domestic workers. It is the point of the Convention because there are many violations of the human rights of domestic workers by their employers.

Conditions of working hours and leave

This Convention provides for reasonable working hours for domestic workers to work contained in Article 10 of the Convention. The rest period for domestic workers to work is at least 24 hours of work per week. There are follow-up rules regarding guarantees for overtime compensation, daily and weekly rest periods, and paid annual leave. It is essential to manage because many domestic workers are overworked in their workload and time.

Modalities of Payment

The rise of domestic workers whom their employers do not pay makes regulating payment modalities essential. Domestic workers must receive wages in cash and directly at one month intervals. The provisions of checks and transfers can be further regulated in the country’s national legislation under Article 12 of this Convention.

Social security Protection

Employers who employ domestic workers are required to provide a safe and healthy work environment and ensure the safety and health of workers. Furthermore, social security protection for domestic workers must be provided so that in difficult conditions and need of social security protection, it has been prepared in advance. Social security is closely related to the right to health. At this time, health and social security for domestic workers are not heeded by the employer, so it is common for domestic workers to get sick and have work accidents without social security coverage.

Dispute resolution, complaints, and enforcement

Article 17 of the Convention provides adequate access to courts, tribunals or other dispute resolution mechanisms, including easily accessible grievance mechanisms. Measures should be held to ensure compliance with national legislation to protect domestic workers, including labour inspection measures. In this regard, the Convention recognizes the need to balance domestic workers’ right to protection and the right to privacy of domestic members.

The existence of this Convention is a guideline for countries in carrying out the protection of domestic workers through the national legal mechanisms of each country. Protection that the state can carry out is by enacting social security and health regulations, regulating working hours and holidays, and creating a mechanism for accountability of both parties (employers and domestic workers) if they violate the employment agreement contract. The importance of these guarantees relates to the human rights of each domestic worker. This protection is a form of state responsibility to protect its citizens. The state is willing to protect domestic workers in labour by ratifying this Convention. Domestic workers can obtain decent work with protection mechanisms regulated by the government either in the form of regulations issued by legislative institutions or judicial institutions.

The country that has ratified and has laws and regulations regarding domestic workers is the Philippines with the ratification of The Act Institute Policies for the Protection and Welfare of Domestic Workers (Republic Act 10361) on January 18, 2013. When looking at the regulations issued by the judicial institution, the European Union courts in the Judgment of case C-389/20, the TGSS (Chômage des employés de Maison) is the milestone of the first Court of justice in Europe to guarantee the rights of domestic workers. The Court held that the exclusion of social security protection benefits from a category of workers consisting mainly of women (95.53% of the total workers enrolled in a particular scheme for domestic workers in Spain) put female workers at a disadvantage compared to male workers. Therefore, it is indirectly discriminatory based on gender. So the Court held that the state should adequately protect domestic workers. It is because the implementation of work in all forms and levels requires the presence of interdependent and essential elements, which will depend on the conditions in each country. Therefore, if the state does not ratify the Convention on the protection of domestic workers, it indicates that the state does not pay attention to the guarantee of the human rights of domestic workers.

As for what civilians can do to support the protection of domestic workers through social media campaigns and the role of non-governmental organizations. Social media campaigns can be carried out to influence the wider community. The campaign’s output is circulated so that it will be heard by parliament and representatives of the people. So that the government can consider the urgency of laws and regulations related to protecting domestic workers. In addition, the role of non-governmental organizations is essential because their activities can be in the form of assisting and assisting domestic workers in seeking protection for labour activities. Non-governmental organizations can also hold hearings with relevant stakeholders so that the urgency of protecting domestic workers can be considered for follow-up.

[1] International Labour Organization, 2021, “Making decent work a reality for domestic workers: Progress and prospects ten years after the adoption of the Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189)”. https://www.ilo.org/global/publications/books/WCMS_802551/lang–en/index.htm

[2] International Labour Organization, 2015, PROMOTE: Pekerjaan Layak bagi Pekerja Rumah Tangga guna Menghapus Pekerja Rumah Tangga Anak, p. 2

[3] Loc.cit.

[4] WIEGO Statistical Brief no.30, 2022 (forthcoming)

[5] International Labour Organization, 2010, Decent Work for Domestic Workers, Report IV (1), International Labour Conference, 99th Session 2010 (Geneva, International Labour Office, 2009), p. 94.

Arimbi Fajari Furqon
Arimbi Fajari Furqon
Arimbi Fajari Furqon, born in Bengkulu, July 10, 1999. The author completed his Bachelor of Laws degree in 2021 at Bengkulu University. She is currently one of the Postgraduate students of the Faculty of Law at Gadjah Mada University. The author's interest is in International Law. This is illustrated by the author's activities as a student by participating in various competitions related to International Law. The author can be contacted via email arimbifajarifurqon@mail.ugm.ac.id or arimbifajari12321[at]gmail.com.


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