Professors such as Chantal Thomas of Cornell, find that foreign domestic workers constitute a unique segment of the labor force primarily because they are employed in the home. Because they function outside of traditional areas of employment and have not had as much scrutiny and study, domestic workers may not receive comprehensive attention from academic and international legal communities studying the plight of migrant workers.
The Feminization of the Domestic Labor Force
Organizations such as the International Labor Organization and the International Organization for Migration have not devoted as much attention to the study of migrant domestic workers as they have to workers engaged in other industries and professions. Estimates place the number of domestic workers in the world at between 50 million and 100 million.
Of the total number of international domestic workers, approximately 83 percent of them are women. According to the international Labor Organization, 50 percent of the female domestic workers scattered throughout the world are immigrants.
Regulation of Foreign Domestic Workers
Foreign domestic workers are people who migrate to another country to improve their economic and social conditions for themselves and for their families. These workers engage in activities related primarily to the household. The actual work performed by a domestic worker can vary from household to household, from region to region, and from country to country. Because the work takes place in private homes, regulation of work conditions and treatment of the workers has been sparse.
Convention 189, proposed by the International Labor Organization in 2011, established a minimum wage, rest periods, a worker’s right to freedom of movement and the right to live outside of the employer’s home. However, it has been approved by only two of the member nations of the International Labor Organization. A similar proposal presented to the European Commission has, so far, failed to be adopted and become part of the international regulatory scheme.
Abuse of Foreign Domestic Workers
Because of this lack of international regulation of foreign domestic workers, the issue has been left to individual countries. This hodgepodge of regulation has resulted in abuse of workers by employers and by agencies that assist in the placement of foreign domestics.
Many domestic workers enter countries illegally. This leaves them fearful of reporting abuses such as low or nonexistent wages, poor living conditions, physical abuse by employers and long working hours. Because workers are concealed within the privacy of their working environment, abuses against foreign domestic workers do not readily come to the attention of regulators or the public.
Raising Awareness of the Plight of Foreign Domestic Workers
The United Nations Development Fund for Women and the International Labor Organization have attempted to open dialogues with governments throughout the world to address the need for international agreements recognizing the rights of domestic workers. Countries such as Lebanon have adopted codes of conduct for the recruitment and hiring of foreign domestic workers or have adopted rules allowing workers to organize through new or existing trade unions.