International Domestic Workers’ Day

Putting the spotlight on minimum entitlements for Vietnamese domestic workers

By Gyorgy Sziraczki, Director of ILO Country Office for Viet Nam

Comment | 15 June 2015
Domestic work is emerging as a growth sector for Vietnamese workers seeking opportunities both within Viet Nam and abroad. This International Domestic Workers’ Day is a timely reminder to consider the future of Vietnamese domestic workers, to understand the challenges an increase in numbers may bring, and to work to ensure Vietnamese domestic workers are protected by strong minimum entitlements, including when working in foreign destinations far from home.

Four years ago, on 16 June, the International Labour Conference adopted the Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189), a milestone in improving protections for the 53 million domestic workers employed globally. The Convention and its accompanying Recommendation were the first international standards to be applied specifically to domestic workers, including migrant domestic workers.

In the coming years Vietnamese workers are likely to make up an increasing number of the world’s domestic workers. Key factors driving growth in the domestic work sector within Viet Nam are the rapidly growing middle-class and limited healthcare services. This growth at the national level has also resulted in increased awareness of opportunities for migrants to undertake domestic work abroad, building on strong existing interest in diverse destinations, such as Macau (China), Taiwan (China) and Cyprus.

There continues to be a high demand for domestic workers in advanced economies due to internal labour shortages. However, it is important to recognise that as new opportunities arise for Vietnamese migrant domestic workers abroad, neighbouring countries, including the Philippines, Indonesia, Myanmar and Cambodia have all, at various time, suspended their migrant domestic workers from travelling to certain destinations due to evidence of maltreatment.

In the present context, Viet Nam continues to pursue migration targets and there have been recent bilateral developments with key labour markets where there is existing demand for domestic workers. For example, Taiwan (China) has agreed to lift a 2005 suspension on the recruitment of new Vietnamese domestic workers; the Thai Government has agreed to allow irregular Vietnamese domestic workers to register for one-year work permits; and Saudi Arabia and Viet Nam have recently signed an MOU covering the recruitment of domestic workers.

Strong minimum entitlements and transparent and accountable recruitment practices need to be at the forefront of policies facilitating an increase in Vietnamese migrant domestic workers working abroad. This is critical given domestic workers are especially vulnerable to abuse compared with other workers employed in other sectors.
Factors contributing to this vulnerability include the highly gendered nature of domestic work, and the prevalence of live-in work arrangements which can increase dependence and abuse, and limit access to family, support services and unions that protect and provide for domestic workers’ needs.

The loss of connection with family is a particular issue keenly felt by many Vietnamese migrant domestic workers given that many Vietnamese workers are women with children and who travel overseas for the sole purpose of working to support their family.

Further, domestic workers, and migrant domestic workers in particular, are regularly excluded from national workplace laws or afforded lesser protections than other workers, including in Taiwan (China), Thailand and Saudi Arabia. At present, there are 5,000 Vietnamese migrant domestic workers currently employed in Saudi Arabia who have limited legislated protections, for example under Saudi Arabian law their minimum rest period is only 9 hours per day and they are required to follow their employer’s orders at all times.

In the near future Viet Nam will be negotiating a model contract with Saudi Arabia to detail basic employment conditions for migrant domestic workers and it is crucial that this provides for strong minimum entitlements to ensure workers are adequately protected. Viet Nam should leverage its own national experience during negotiations, noting it has already taken practical steps to improve entitlements for domestic workers in Viet Nam through Decree No. 27 which mandates the inclusion of certain minimum entitlements in employment contracts.

International Domestic Workers’ Day is an opportunity to recognize the contribution of all Vietnamese domestic workers, including migrant workers, as the sector continues to expand. It is critical this recognition brings with it a call for strengthened rights and minimum entitlements.

The ILO Country Office for Viet Nam has today released a policy paper to mark International Domestic Workers Day: The growing trend of Vietnamese migrant domestic workers is available here.