Extending social security to domestic workers
Globally, there are 67.1 million domestic workers employed. It is estimated that the majority of domestic workers are excluded from social security, or if covered, enjoy a lower level of protection in comparison with other workers. Such exclusion, together with low wages, weak job security and poor working conditions, has negative consequences for domestic workers (mostly women). As a result, many domestic workers are excluded from effective access to health care, as well as from income security in the event of maternity, employment injury, unemployment or old age, which constitutes an additional source of vulnerability for them and their families.
This module highlights the specific challenges of extending social security to domestic workers and explores some policy options, based on international experience and guided by ILO social security standards.
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Relevant international labour standards
- What are the specific challenges with regard to including domestic workers under social security legislation?
- How can domestic workers be included under social security legislation?
- What else needs to be considered when aiming at including domestic workers under social security legislation?
- Legal exclusion: domestic workers might be explicitly excluded from legislation as a category, or their coverage might be limited owing to restrictive eligibility criteria set out in legislation (such as minimum working hours or earning thresholds). Such minimum thresholds contribute to the exclusion of many domestic workers from legal protection.
- Administrative barriers: domestic workers tend to have long and unpredictable working hours and thus may face challenges in obtaining access to social security offices to seek information or access benefits. Their employers are often private households with limited capacity to deal with complex registration and payment procedures, especially in a fragmented system that involves interaction with several institutions.
- Limited contributory capacity: domestic workers are among the lowest-paid income earners or are often paid in kind, which limits their capacity to contribute.
- Lack of enforcement and low compliance: inspections are made difficult by the fact that domestic work is usually performed in the private home of the employer, which is outside the scope of the legislation. The right to privacy may therefore infringe on the labour rights of domestic workers.
- Lack of information and organization: when domestic workers and their employers lack information and awareness about their rights and responsibilities with regards to social protection and how to access it, they have more difficulty in complying with its provisions. Such a lack of information also puts workers in a weak bargaining position, especially when the level of organization and representation is low in the sector.
Extending legal coverage
- Ensuring appropriate legal frameworks, for example: by developing legislation that takes into account the specificities of domestic work, including the fact that many domestic workers work for more than one household; by eliminating or reducing legal thresholds on minimum working time, duration of employment or earnings.
- Promoting mandatory coverage of domestic workers, rather than voluntary coverage.
Facilitating access to social protection by removing administrative barriers
- Simplifying registration and payment procedures, including electronic or automatic registration.
- Developing appropriate solutions to facilitate the registration of people who work on an hourly basis or those employed by several employers, for example, by introducing a service voucher system.
Facilitating contribution collection
- Facilitating the payment of contributions, including by establishing flexible mechanisms for the collection of contributions or by introducing differentiated contribution provisions or unified contributions.
- Subsidizing social insurance contributions for domestic workers with limited income.
- Providing fiscal incentives to employers who register their domestic workers.
Enhancing compliance and facilitating inspections
- Adapting labour inspection mechanisms to the situation of domestic workers and their workplaces, for example by adapting regulations for the inspection of private households and strengthening the capacities of labour and social security inspectors.
- Raising awareness and promoting compliance through preventive measures.
Raising awareness and sharing information
- Raising awareness among domestic workers and their employers about their rights and obligations with regards to social protection.
- Facilitating access to information through intermediaries, such as domestic workers' and employers' organizations and civil society organizations.
- The extension of legal coverage needs to be accompanied by mechanisms to ensure the application of the laws in practice. These mechanisms may include creating incentives for registration, adapting labour inspection mechanisms to the situation of domestic workers, effective complaints mechanisms, or raising awareness of existing legislation and schemes.
- To ensure that domestic workers enjoy decent working conditions, social security policies should be consistent with other policy areas, such as minimum wage legislation and other wage policies, legislation on working hours, legislation and guarantees for occupational health and safety, and the promotion of social dialogue.
- Although not directly related to social protection, collective bargaining and the right to organize play a crucial role in establishing legislation that enhances the labour and social security rights of domestic workers.
- Policy responses need to take into account the different situations of domestic workers (on-site living for example), full-time and part-time work, as well as particularly vulnerable categories of workers, such as children, migrant workers and internal migrants in rural areas.
- The inclusion of domestic workers in social security and labour legislation not only provides better social protection for domestic workers but also contributes to valuing social protection as work rather than a voluntary, non-valuable activity. Awareness-raising campaigns are essential to change attitudes towards domestic workers.
- ILO report: Making decent work a reality for domestic workers: Progress and prospects ten years after the adoption of the Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189)
- ILO report: Social protection for domestic workers: Key policy trends and statistics
- ILO report: Formalizing domestic work
- Your Toolkit on ILO Convention 189 — The Domestic Workers' Convention
- ILO report: Domestic workers across the world: Global and regional statistics and the extent of legal protection
- ILO resource guide: Domestic workers: strategies for overcoming poor regulation
- WIEGO podcast: Social Security for Domestic Workers: trends and strategies