Chapter 8: Minimum wages for domestic workers
8.3 Should domestic workers be covered by minimum wages?
Many domestic workers around the world are excluded from minimum wage coverageLow remuneration is also due to the frequent exclusion of domestic workers from labour law generally, and from minimum wage coverage specifically. In fact, 22.4 million domestic workers (42.6 per cent of the total worldwide) do not have any protection against unduly low wages and no minimum wage is applicable to them.
To a small extent, this is due to the fact that they live in countries that do not have minimum wage legislation (0.8 million workers thus affected). However, far more domestic workers – 21.5 million – live in countries with minimum wage regulations that protect other workers but not them. In addition, many more domestic workers are not effectively covered by minimum wage provisions because of the high levels of informality in the sector (see section 4.5.3).
Just over half of domestic workers have the right to the same or higher statutory minimum wage as other workers under their national legislations. Around 3.1 million domestic workers (5.9 per cent of the total) are entitled to a minimum wage fixed below the statutory minimum wage for other workers. Moreover, when there are several minimum wages, for example, at sectoral level, the minimum wage for domestic workers tends to be the lowest of these. Even where minimum wages are in place, ensuring that employers comply with the rate poses challenges. Employers often are not aware of their responsibilities, labour inspectorates are frequently under-resourced, and often require permission from the householder or judiciary authorization to enter the home.
However, numerous labour ministries and inspectorates have developed innovative practices to raise awareness among employers about the minimum wage when it is introduced, and to ensure that employers are in compliance.1
Domestic workers deserve minimum wage protection equivalent to that enjoyed by workers generallyMinimum wage provisions are important instruments to protect the most vulnerable and lowest-paid workers – such as domestic workers – from unduly low wages. A minimum wage recognizes the basic contribution of these workers to homes and societies, and is a key means of ensuring the principle of equal pay for work of equal value.
In fact, Convention No. 189 explicitly states that “Each Member shall take measures to ensure that domestic workers enjoy minimum wage coverage, where such coverage exists, and that remuneration is established without discrimination based on sex” (Article 11). In line with this provision, several countries have taken measures to extend minimum wage coverage to domestic workers, such as Namibia, Brazil, South Africa, Switzerland, the United States, and some Indian States.
Minimum wages should respect the principle of equal pay for work of equal valueCountries across the globe have different minimum wage systems in place. Some set a national minimum wage, while others have a regional system. Some set minimum wages by sector or occupation or use a combination of multiple systems (see chapter 2). South Africa, for example, sets minimum wages by sector, region and occupation. An overview of selected country practices is provided in Table 1 below.
In some countries with a single national minimum wage, domestic workers have the same minimum wage rate as all other workers. This is in line with Article 11 of Convention No. 189.
In countries that adopt a sectoral or occupational approach, a minimum wage can also be established specifically for the domestic work sector – for example, through a tripartite wage board or via collective bargaining. However, when sectoral minimum wages are set, it is important that they respect the principle of equal pay for work of equal value (see section 2.4). Otherwise the minimum wage fixing mechanism would directly reinforce the traditional undervaluation of care work, and the system would then be in violation of that principle.
Table 1. Summary of minimum wage systems for domestic workers in selected countries
|Included in national minimum wage||Gradual approach||Sectoral approach||Combination|
|United States |
Republic of Moldova
|South Africa (sectoral, regional, and by occupation) |
Philippines (sectoral, regional)
1 ILO (2015). Labour inspection and other compliance mechanisms in the domestic work sector: Introductory guide. (ILO, Geneva).