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The forgotten workforce: domestic workers
Date of Issue: Tuesday, 24 May, 2016
As an international organisation, IIRSM has been concerned at revelations from the International Labour Organization (ILO) about the conditions experienced globally by domestic workers. This is a sector that we in the health and safety profession are inclined to overlook or, if we are conscious of the issue, to regard it as a third world problem.
Though domestic workers in the UK should be covered by health and safety legislation, this is not always the case in other regions. However, rights to rest are contained in the Article 24 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is part of Convention No.1 of the ILO that was adopted in 1919. These standards require that domestic workers have the right to a minimum of 24 hours consecutive weekly rest, in other words a minimum of one day a week of work in which they should be allowed to leave the employer’s household. In addition there should be an uninterrupted daily rest period for sleep and recuperation. In the EU this has been interpreted in the Working Time Directive 2003 as at least 11 consecutive hours.
The ILO has backed up these conventions by the Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189) which came into force in September 2013. However, to date, only 22 countries have ratified this convention including five for which it will come into force this year. Interestingly, of the EU member states only Belgium (from 10 June 2016), Finland, Germany, Ireland and Italy have so far signed up.
A survey by the ILO has produced some extremely worrying concerns, including the fact that 29.9% of domestic workers are excluded from national labour laws, 56.6% are not covered by limitations on weekly hours, 44.9% have no entitlement to weekly rest, and 44.4% are excluded from any annual leave provision. Where employees do not have these rights, particularly among live-in workers, there is a greater incidence of stress and fatigue leading to mental and physical health problems including Type-2 diabetes. Also the likelihood of workers having accidents is greater.
As a first step in improving conditions for domestic workers, the ILO suggests the general adoption of the EU ‘11/24’ rule with part of the 11-hour period being between 9pm and 6am and the weekly rest allowing participation in cultural, social or religious activities. Some countries have already made moves in this direction. For example, Chile has given live-in workers a right to 12 hours’ daily rest – of which nine must be consecutive.
We encourage IIRSM members in all countries to support this ILO campaign to improve conditions for this forgotten group of workers.