Formalizing Employment in Domestic Work: Converging Systems for Decent Work for Domestic Workers

ILO is taking a sector-based approach to achieve legal recognition, social security provisions, and organizational rights for the domestic workers, and eventually to formalize the employment relationship in domestic work sector.

Background and rationale

Formalizing Employment in Domestic Work: Converging Systems for Decent Work acquires significance in current context where there is rapid expansion of the informal employment globally as well as in India. The significant increase in numbers of informal workers since the 1990’s in India is a major concern for stakeholders in the world of work, especially for workers and workers’ representative organizations. In this context, ILO is embarking on a sector based approach to deal with informality in one particular sector and achieve legal recognition, social security provisions, and organizational rights for the workers of that sector, which eventually is expected to formalize the employment relationship in that sector. As part of this global strategy, considering the fact that domestic work is increasingly emerging as an alternative livelihood option for millions of women in both rural and urban centers of India, this sector has been chosen for this particular ILO intervention.

Significance of the intervention

Formalizing Domestic Work Converging Systems for Decent Work, is a continuation of ILO’s work in previous years with a strategy to approach informality in this sector through existing legal and social security frameworks available for other workers. The approach also entails the identification of specific programmes, legislative and policy reforms that may be required in case existing systems do not sufficiently address the labour welfare and rights of domestic workers and their employers, due to the unique nature of this work. Given that welfare schemes do not sufficiently regulate working conditions, such as hours of work, rest periods and leave days, efforts will be made to define the fair terms of employment in mutual consultation with employers and domestic workers.

Scope of the project

Drawing from past experience, a state specific approach has been adopted. As an initial step, Maharashtra has been identified as a focus State, considering the following factors:
  1. Statistics shows that the state of Maharashtra has the highest number of domestic workers compared to other states
  2. The Welfare Board for Domestic Workers was constituted in Maharashtra in 2008
  3. The trade union organization of domestic workers took place in Maharashtra, much earlier than any other State in India.
While the specific focus was on Maharashtra towards eventually establishing a formal employment relationship, the Project is also working on a uniform national regulation for domestic workers in India. Simultaneously, the Project is working with domestic workers communities in the States of Delhi and Tamil Nadu with an objective to equip domestic workers with community life competency skills. In the past, ILO interventions aimed at improving the working conditions of domestic workers through various policy level initiatives both at Central and State level. In the current phase of the intervention, it was understood that improvement in working conditions let alone will not result in improving the life standards of targeted workers and it is important to nurture community competency skills among domestic workers to equip them to deal with their problems and issues at workplace, in their families and communities simultaneously. This understanding led to adopt community life skills competency programme for domestic workers in selected States by the project in collaboration with Trade Unions and Domestic Workers organizations/Associations.

What does formalization mean for domestic workers and their employers?

In the context of this particular project, Formalization is approached in two ways: first bringing domestic workers progressively within coverage of labour and employment regulations and laws. The second approach entails particularly in areas where applicable regulations and laws do not give sufficient clarity on domestic workers’ condition of work, defining elements of employment relationships in consultation with representatives of employers and domestic workers, in the form of a code of conduct. The focus will be placed on professionalization of the sector, and the obligations of household employers towards workers in their own homes. Having a defined terms of employment (such as a in the form of a code of conduct) benefits the employers enormously as they will obtain clarity on their obligation as employers and would enable them to provide fair terms without being reliant on placement agencies and other middlemen who currently informally dictate the terms and conditions of workers and employers.

The specific objectives of the project

  • Improved coverage of domestic workers’ working conditions in existing / new legal and policy instruments (especially minimum wages and social security / protection schemes)
  • Platform for bipartite discussion on working condition formed and strengthened (Domestic workers are organized and are aware of their rights, and a strategy for organizing employers defined and piloted)
  • Fair terms and conditions of employment for domestic workers is defined and established through a tripartite process, including a code of conduct for the employment of domestic workers, issued on a tripartite basis
  • Workers Organizations and associations of domestic workers take a lead in ensuring domestic workers have access to rights and grievance redressal
  • Encourage domestic workers communities to take actions which are drawn in a participatory process towards improving their living and working conditions by equipping them with Community Life Competency Skills

Key partners

  • Government of India
  • State Government of Maharashtra
  • Central Trade Unions
  • Domestic Workers’ Unions/organizations/Associations/Forums in India.