THERE are at least 53 million people employed worldwide as nannies, cleaners, butlers, servants and housekeepers, and many are being exploited. An overwhelming majority are women, many of them migrants who have traveled far from home to find work. 

As the numbers of domestic workers traveling abroad grows by leaps and bounds, there are concerns that they are increasingly vulnerable to abuse. In fact only 10% of all domestic workers are protected by specific labor laws and a quarter receive no protection at all from national legislatures. 

The Philippines, a major source of domestic workers worldwide, was the driving force behind the new Domestic Workers Convention 189 in 2011 and is pressing hard for its adoption worldwide. So far only two other countries, Mauritius and Uruguay have ratified it.

The ILO notes that the number of domestic workers has jumped by 19 million from the mid-1990s until today — a staggering increase of more than 50 per cent. And this is not even the true number because so many people move country to work as nannies and cleaners, often flying below the immigration radar to do so.

“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,” says the ILO’s deputy director general Sandra Polaski.

Globally domestic workers account for 7.5% of the planet’s workforce yet they work longer, more unpredictable hours and with far fewer rights to weekly rest than other workers. 

IOM website