The ILO Discusses Domestic Workers

It isn’t uncommon to read in local, national and international newspapers stories of domestic workers being ill-treated, underpaid and overworked. While Canadian employment standards offer some protection to domestic workers, this certainly isn’t the case across the globe.

With the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) International Labour Conference currently taking place in Geneva from June 1 to June 17, with the agenda including an item entitled “Decent work for domestic workers”, there are hopes that a Convention supplemented by a Recommendation will be adopted to afford what is seen as urgently-needed protection to domestic workers (see the ILO website for more information).

At last year’s Conference, a resolution was passed to place this item for discussion on this year’s agenda. Since then, member states, along with employers’ and workers’ organizations, have been invited to submit replies to various proposed provisions to this Convention and Recommendation. This Convention, if adopted, will address such issues as rest periods, remuneration, health and safety and other basic conditions of work for domestic workers.

If adopted by the Conference, member states will have the option of ratifying this Convention after submitting it to their national competent authority. Once ratified, a country must ensure that its laws are in conformity with the Convention and will be subject to the ILO’s supervisory system. However, a member state may choose not to ratify it. 

While this Convention and Recommendation is certainly a step in the right direction, such issues often have deep roots in the cultural and social norms of a country and change isn’t always necessarily quick in coming. What do you think, will an ILO Convention make a difference?


  1. An ILO Convention to protect the rights of domestic workers is needed if only as a “symbolic” gesture. For some nations there is a heavy reliance on “foreign” domestic help so there is need for guidelines or a watch-list of some kind to monitor countries where there is a high incidence of abuse whether physical, mental or financial of domestic workers.

    While these issues as you say have “deep roots in the cultural and social norms of a country” and yes, some may see this Convention as imposing the values of one culture on another. However, human dignity is not western, eastern, northern nor southern; it’s not Christian nor non-Christian, as absurd as this may appear, such a Convention as the one proposed by the ILO to protect domestic workers is rooted in the protection of human dignity and that’s a “human thing”. And, I keep hoping.