Ten years after the adoption of an historic International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention that confirmed their labour rights, domestic workers are still fighting for recognition as workers and essential service providers.

Working conditions for many have not improved in a decade and have been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new ILO report.

Estimates of the number of domestic workers working through service providers reveal the sizeable role played by these actors in the domestic work market in certain countries.

This is the case for 51 per cent of domestic workers in Nepal, 43 per cent in Cambodia, 34 per cent in Thailand, 23 per cent in Sri Lanka and 19 per cent in Vietnam, as per the report.

“In Kuwait, for example, administrative data indicate that 90 per cent of domestic workers are from Bangladesh, India, the Philippines and Sri Lanka. Interestingly, workers from India and Bangladesh tend to be men (in part due to the labour migration policies in those countries), while those from the Philippines and Sri Lanka, as well as Ethiopia, Madagascar and Nepal, tend to be women.”

A decade ago the adoption of the landmark Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189)  was hailed as a breakthrough for the tens of millions of domestic workers around the world – most of whom are women.

Domestic work remains a female-dominated sector, employing 57.7 million women, who account for 76.2 per cent of domestic workers.

While women make up the majority of the workforce in Europe and Central Asia and in the Americas, men outnumber women in Arab States (63.4 per cent) and North Africa, and make up just under half of all domestic workers in Southern Asia (42.6 per cent).

The vast majority of domestic workers are employed in two regions. About half (38.3 million) can be found in Asia and the Pacific – largely on account of China – while another quarter (17.6 million) are in the Americas.

At the height of the crisis, job losses among domestic workers ranged from 5-20 per cent in most European countries, as well as Canada and South Africa.

In the Americas, the situation was worse, with losses amounting to 25-50 per cent. Over the same period, job losses among other employees were less than 15 per cent in most countries.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated working conditions that were already very poor, the report says.

Domestic workers were more vulnerable to the fallout from the pandemic because of long-standing gaps in labour and social protection.

This particularly affected the more than 60 million domestic workers in the informal economy.

Data in the report show that the world’s 75.6 million domestic workers (4.5 per cent of employees worldwide) have suffered significantly, which in turn has affected the households that rely on them to meet their daily care needs.

A large number of domestic workers (36 per cent) remain wholly excluded from labor laws, pointing to the urgent need to close legal gaps, particularly in Asia and the Pacific and the Arab States, where the gaps are largest.

Even where domestic workers are covered by labour and social protection laws, implementation remains a significant issue of exclusion and informality.

According to the report, only one-in-five (18.8 per cent) domestic workers enjoy effective, employment-related, social protection coverage.