Extending social security to domestic workers
Globally, there are 67.1 million domestic workers. The majority of them 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, most of whom are women. As a result, many domestic workers are excluded from effective access to health care, as well as income security in case of maternity, employment injury, unemployment and old age, which constitutes an additional source of vulnerability for them and their families.
This module stresses specific challenges for the extension of social security to domestic workers and explores some policy options, based on international experience and guided by ILO social security standards
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 may be explicitly excluded from legislation as a category, or they may be less likely to comply with the eligibility criteria set out in the legislation (e.g. with regard to minimum working hours or salary thresholds) or may be excluded in practice because legislation is not enforced.
- Administrative barriers: Due to long and unpredictable working hours, domestic workers may face challenges in accessing social security offices to seek information or access benefits. Their employers are often private households, which have limited capacities to deal with complex registration and payment procedures, even more so in a fragmented system where they are required to interact with several institutions.
- Limited contributory capacities: Domestic workers are among the lowest-paid income earners or are often paid in-kind which limits their contributory capacity.
- Lack of enforcement and control: Inspections are made difficult by the fact that domestic work usually takes places in the private home of the employer which is often outside the scope of legislation, so that the right of privacy may infringe on the labour rights of domestic workers.
- Lack of information and organization: Domestic workers and their employers lack information and awareness regarding their rights and responsibilities with regard to social protection and on how to access it, which affects their compliance. The lack of information also puts workers at a weak bargaining position, even more so when the level of organization and representation is low in the sector.
Extending legal coverage
- Ensure adequate legal frameworks, for example by developing legislation which takes into account the specificities of the domestic work, including the fact that many domestic workers work for more than one household reducing or removing legal thresholds on minimum working time, duration of employment or earnings and reducing or removing legal thresholds on minimum working time, duration of employment or earnings
- Prioritize mandatory coverage of domestic workers, as opposed to voluntary coverage
Facilitating access to social protection by removing administrative barriers
- Simplify and streamline registration and payment procedures, for example through electronic registration or automatic enrolment
- Develop adapted solutions to facilitate the registration of workers who work on hourly basis or work for more than one employer, e.g. through service voucher system
Facilitating the payment of contributions
- Facilitate the payment of contributions, for example by establishing flexible contribution collection mechanisms, introducing differentiated contributory provisions or unified social insurance contributions
- Subsidize the social insurance contributions of domestic workers with limited earnings capacities
- Provide fiscal incentives for employers to register their domestic workers
Enhancing compliance and facilitating inspections
- Adapt labour inspection mechanisms to the situation of domestic workers and their workplace, for example by adapting regulations with regard to the inspection of private households and building the capacity of labour and social security inspectors
- Raise awareness and promote compliance through prevention measures
Raising awareness and providing information
- Raise awareness among domestic workers and their employers about their rights and obligations with regard to social protection
- Facilitate the access to information through intermediaries, such as organizations of domestic workers and employers, 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 can include the creation of incentives for registration, the adaptation of labour inspection mechanisms to the situation of domestic workers, effective grievance mechanisms and/or the raising of awareness regarding existing laws and schemes.
- To ensure that domestic workers enjoy decent work conditions, social security policies have to go hand in hand with other policy areas, such as minimum wage legislations, legislation on working hours, legislation and guarantees for occupational health and safety, and promotion of social dialogue.
- Although not directly related to social protection, collective bargaining and the right to organize play an important role in pushing towards legislation which enhances labour and social security rights of domestic workers
- Policy responses should take into account the different situations of live-in and live-out domestic workers, full-time and part-time domestic workers, as well as particularly vulnerable categories of workers, such as child labourers, migrant workers and internal migrants from rural areas.
- Including domestic workers in social security and labour legislation does not only provide better social protection for domestic workers, but it also contributes to valuing social protection as work rather than a voluntary, non-valuable activity. Awareness raising campaigns are essential to change the public attitude towards domestic workers.
- ILO report: Social protection for domestic workers: Key policy trends and statistics
- ILO report: Formalizing domestic work
- WIEGO Toolkit on ILO Convention 189
- 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: Domestic violence and violence at the workplace for domestic workers