Human Rights of Domestic Workers

Subject: Sociology
Pages: 8
Words: 2100
Reading time:
8 min
Study level: College


Domestic workers are essential to many households in the US and the world today. As the need and demand for domestic workers continue to increase, many issues continue to emerge, in terms of their protection, and human rights. The major consensus among many bodies and institutions that include government representatives, trade unions, National Human Rights Institutions, learning institutions, and Non-Governmental Organizations, is that, domestic employees are highly vulnerable to abuse, with regards to their human rights, and that this group of workers’ rights call for more attention. [1]

This view is further supported by the increased cases of domestic workers, mainly migrant workers, being physically, economically, sexually and emotionally abused by their employees, not just in the USA but in many other parts of the world as well. Domestic work is slowly turning into slavery, with domestic employees seemingly being excluded from universal human rights. There is a need for action to be taken, and to ensure that the workers’ human rights are addressed to ensure their complete protection and well-being. This paper broadly looks at domestic workers’ human rights, with the focus being mainly on the US.

The paper seeks to explore the various concepts, theories, and laws related to the human rights of domestic employees, as well as the historical background of the topic. The paper also argues for the workers’ rights to be addressed with the focus being on the need to ensure that their work is categorized as the usual work, and, therefore, covered by the rights that cover other employees in their various employment sectors. The paper calls for laws that address the duties and rights of this group of employees to be implemented.

Domestic Workers and Human Rights

A domestic employee or worker can be defined as one whose work is done within the household of the employer. The person is charged with different responsibilities and roles which include caring for the employer’s elderly dependents and children, housekeeping, laundry, cleaning, shopping, cooking, and performing other household tasks. In some situations, the worker may live at their place of work. [2]

According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), about 83 percent of domestic employees are women, with many of them being migrant workers. The most current estimate, by the organization, of the total number of domestic workers in the world gave a figure of almost 53,000000 in 117 countries included in the count. According to the organization, however, this number could be higher, up to 100 million, because, a great number of the domestic workers, are doing so in secret, and are, therefore, not registered, and hence were not included in the count. [3]

Despite their large number and the significant role they play, domestic workers are not treated like other employees and do not enjoy the protection of the law in many countries.

Migrant workers, on the other hand, and who make up a great number of domestic workers, are exposed to harsh and abusive working conditions mainly based on their status as home and migrant workers. Even though, the law protects the basic working rights, for example, the right to receive a minimum wage, of even the undocumented employees; the migrant workers do not get to enjoy these rights. Additionally, the workers cannot take action against their discriminatory treatment, as they are always threatened with deployment or deportation.

Additionally, the migrant domestic employees are also discriminated against based on race and ethnic background, factors which highly contribute to the low wages, poor conditions of work, sexual, physical, and verbal abuse as well as lack of freedom of movement from the employer. Such discriminatory acts are not protected by the US law against discrimination, as the federal nondiscrimination act does not cover the workplaces within which they occur; homes. [4]

Looking at the United Arab Emirates countries, where domestic workers’ abuse has continued to spread over the years, domestic workers, who are mainly foreigners, are not protected by the law. In the case of Saudi Arabia for example, there are no laws that govern many of the trafficking offenses, with many of the abuse cases involving migrant workers being addressed through Islamic law, ministerial resolutions, and royal decrees. [5] The Saudi labor laws do not cover domestic workers, most of whom are foreigners.

The settlement of a great number of cases dealing with foreign workers’ abuse and trafficking is done through mediation and outside court. Additionally, employers have been given exceptional dominion over their workers, a major reason why domestics workers are constantly being abused, in ways such as unsafe and poor conditions of work, low or no wages, and withholding of identity and travel documents by employers, with no place to turn to for help.

In a bid to reduce the increased cases of domestic workers’ abuse, the UAE was part of other bodies that agreed to the implementation of the ILO agreement that seeks to protect domestic workers all over the world from abuse, and inhuman treatments from their employers. The agreement calls for the protection of domestic workers by the labor laws protecting the rest of the workers and that include, weekly off, minimum wages, and limited number of working hours. [1]

The use of domestic workers, as persons to provide services within a household, has been in existence since time immemorial, with the UK’s 1823 act of Master and Servant being the first law to represent this group of workers. The implementation of this law influenced the creation and implementation of laws related to domestic service in other different countries, where such laws did not exist. The established laws, however, were mainly to serve the best interest of the employer, but not the employee, with no protection being given to the workers. The workers were only provided with a small wage, daily food, accommodation, and other basic things like clothes. [2]


Domestic work in Britain first came into existence during the last late years of the Victorian era. In the United States, domestic service can be traced from as early as the years of the country’s colonization by Europe. Until the mid to late nineteenth century, when the US began the top change from being agrarian to being industrialized, domestic servers were mainly kept as slaves who mainly worked in the farms without any wages. The slaves were mainly Africans and women from poor backgrounds. As the country became more industrialized, domestic labor changed from slavery with no pay, to paid service. [1]

The pay and treatment of the domestic workers, however, has over the years been reported as being poor and unjust. It is for this reason that the 20th century saw the rise of numerous women’s rights, immigrant rights, and labor rights movements that have continued to bring to the front, the poor and harsh conditions domestic workers are facing both in the US and in other different parts of the world. The 2011 ILO’s Convention Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers is the latest move towards ensuring that, the rights of domestic workers are observed and protected, and that calls for the provision of good working conditions for every domestic worker.

Domestic workers deserve fair treatment and equal protection by the law as that of other workers in the other various sectors. There is a need for limited hours of work, provision of leave/ off days, medical covers as well as favorable wages for all. The laws of human rights were created to prevent the various kinds of atrocities that domestic workers are continuously exposed to and to also offer remedial measures. A great number of the issues in question are those to do with cultural, economic, and social rights. The

Universal Declaration of 1948 makes it clear that every individual has a right to conducive work conditions, fair wages, rest, good wellbeing and health of both the employee and his/ her family, security, and to be a member of a trade union. In this case, the harsh and discriminatory treatments these workers receive from their employers are totally against the Universal Declaration, Article IV as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Additionally, the actions violate Article V, which is against any form of dehumanizing treatment.

The main question, in this case, lies on the reason as to why legal personalities have not subjected much focus on the human rights issues, use of language as well corporations in advancing the domestic workers’ rights. The most basic reason can be due to the lack of incorporation of the human rights norms into the domestic laws of the USA. The country is also responsible for aligning itself away from the human rights norms and bodies that oversee the norms. This padding is made through treaty approval that is selective, imposing reservations that are substantive to the ratified covenants, and not recognizing the main human rights jurisdictions over internal disputes within the United States.

Another major reason is the diversion of attention, of those advocating for the workers’ rights, towards persuading states and countries to endorse the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, an agreement the United States is not ready to endorse. [2]

Through their campaigns and actions calling for the rights of domestic workers to be enhanced, activists and advocates for migrant/ domestic workers have ensured that countries such as the US have set up labor laws that protect the workers. The problem here is, however, that of laxity on the side of the governments, which are not quick to enforce these laws and to ensure that those who break these laws are brought to book. [3]The adoption of the International Labour Organization agreement by the various countries, organizations, trade unions as well as governments during the year 2011 was a key move towards ensuring that the rights of domestic workers are addressed.

The successful implementation of law within a country can only take place if the government is ready and willing to adopt the law. In this case, the US is not yet willing to ratify the convention, and in turn, protect the rights of domestic workers. As a result, the government has a huge role to play in ensuring that the rights of domestic workers are flawlessly protected and observed. Unless the conventions alter the current United States law, measures to uphold the rights of domestic workers can only be endorsed by the senate.

Currently, the United States has just endorsed fourteen conventions. However, remarkable progress is evident at the local and state level. The previous year saw New York become the first to allow a bill of human rights for domestic employees to be passed. With this, other governments are willing to have their countries follow suit, with many other citizens urging their governments to also pass the bill. [4]

The adoption of the bill and ratification of the various conventions fighting for the rights of domestic workers is essential in ensuring that, the workers acquire their rights to minimum wages, limited working hours, of about 8 hours per day, off days as well as improved living and working conditions for all members of the family. Domestic workers have equal rights as other employees. All employers, as well as figures in authority, should work towards ensuring that the workers’ rights are equally as important as those of others.

Findings and Conclusion

As discussed above, domestic workers in the US and many other parts of the world continue to suffer at the hands of their employers. The workers, who are mainly foreigners, are constantly exposed to economic exploitation, physical, mental, verbal, and sexual abuse, cases which in extreme conditions can be regarded as modern-day slavery. A key reason why domestic workers have continued to be victims of their employers in terms of such inhuman acts is their exclusion from the labor laws governing countries such as the US and the UAE. As a means of bringing domestic abuse and neglect to the end, therefore, there is a need to realize that, domestic workers are no different from other workers and should, hence, enjoy the same benefits as those of workers in other sectors.

With this realization, the International Labor Organization developed the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. The convention seeks to ensure that domestic and migrant workers enjoy safe working conditions, minimum wages, and limited hours of working, off days as well as medical cover. In this case, the main duty lies with the government, which is charged with the role of ensuring that, the convention is ratified and enforced.


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