Voice for Domestic Workers

"… We must be included in the Decent Work Agenda. We want decent work too."  

~ Ida LeBlanc

Domestic workers are those who work in others' homes for pay, providing a range of services. They wash floors, clothes and dishes; shop and cook; care for children, the elderly, and disabled people; or provide gardening, driving, and security services. They are vital to the economy -- their work allows others to take part in economic activity.

A significant proportion of the world's workforce is engaged in domestic work, yet these workers are among the least recognized and protected workers, and often suffer isolation, invisibility and slave-like working and living conditions.

Voice for Domestic Workers supported the organization and representation of domestic/household workers, and especially to help them to gain recognition and rights as workers through the campaign for an international convention and for national legislation. The project was undertaken in partnership with the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF).


The International Domestic Workers Network (IDWN) was created to help strengthen the organization of domestic workers globally and ensure their representation in international policy forums. This video depicts their growth and achievements (or watch the trailer or the short version)

  • For more information on this network, the ongoing campaigns for ratification of the Convention for Domestic Workers' Rights and to access resources and advocacy/organizing tools, visit IDWN's new website, www.idwn.info.
  • For a full discussion on this occupational group, see Domestic Workers.

A major achievement was the adoption of an international Convention on Domestic Workers, which was officially on the agenda at the International Labour Conference (ILC) in 2010 and was adopted in June ILC 2011. For a brief history and details, see The Campaign for a Domestic Workers' Convention.

WIEGO has consistently encouraged and supported organizing, networking and advocacy amongst domestic workers. It also works to improve statistics on domestic workers and to make these available to organizations and advocates.

Domestic Workers cheer for C189

Detailed Activities


During 2009, the main activities of the IDWN were identifying organizations of domestic workers, mobilizing  domestic workers and allies around the campaign for an ILO Convention, strengthening the Network structure  through active involvement of the Steering Committee in the regions, participating in the ILC 2009 to familiarize and prepare for the 2010 negotiations, lobbying trade unions, governments and employers’ associations in different countries to support the demands of domestic workers for a Convention, through endorsing these demands in their response to a questionnaire included in the ILO “Law and Practice Report.” The answers to this questionnaire informed the second report which was the basis for negotiations at the International Labour Conference (ILC) in June 2010 and 2011.

The Network also prepared and organized workshops, meetings and regional conferences in Mexico, Kenya and Hong Kong in preparation for the ILC, it raised awareness amongst the public at large and gave greater validity to domestic workers internationally. Through all these processes the Network gathered the demands of domestic workers and published their Platform of Demands that was used as a basis for negotiations at the ILC 2010.

The IDWN also led a team of domestic workers to participate in the 2010 ILC negotiations, which concluded with an agreement that the instrument to be negotiated in 2011 would be an ILO Convention supplemented by a Recommendation – as demanded by domestic workers and supported by the trade union movement.


In 2010, Karin Pape, WIEGO's Regional Advisor, Europe, was seconded to act as interim coordinator of the IDWN.

The ILO included the first discussion on Decent Work for Domestic Workers on its agenda during the 99th Session of the International Labour Conference (ILC), which was held in Geneva on June 1, 2010.

For more information, see:


The first half of 2011 was busy as WIEGO and its partners supported the IDWN through active involvement on the Steering Committee and supporting domestic workers globally in articulating their common needs and concerns. Workshops with domestic workers representatives were held regionally and sub-regionally. Mapping of domestic worker organizations took place and information was disseminated to domestic workers across several continents.

Karin Pape continued as Interim Coordinator for the IDWN as it campaigned for adoption of the Convention. WIEGO advocated with trade unions, governments and employers to get support for the Convention and for domestic workers’ representation at the ILC; provided fund-raising and travel support; and fostered alliance-building with supportive NGOs and researchers. During the year, IDWN established a blog to engage a broader audience.

On June 16, 2011, history was made when governments, employers and workers from around the world adopted the Convention and accompanying Recommendation on Decent Work for Domestic Workers at the 100th International Labour Conference (ILC). For more on this great achievement, read ILO Convention Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers Adopted!


The adoption of the international tool to ensure domestic workers’ rights and protection at national level is only a beginning. Now, efforts must focus on the next step: lobbying for ratification of the ILO convention in as many countries as possible. This requires the consolidation and formalization of the IDWN, and strengthening domestic workers’ local, national and regional unions, associations and networks to achieve effective representative voice. WIEGO is continuing to support, as requested: the campaign for ratification and enforcement of C189; further development of the structure and constitution of the IDWN as a global MBO; fund-raising; the creation of educational materials; and regional network building.

Featured Stories

Marcelina Bautista

Marcelina Bautista, IDWN Latin American Regional Coordinator and General Secretary of CONLACTRAHO [Latin American and Caribbean Confederation of Domestic Workers]

With no possibilities of an education past the primary level or work in her home town, Marcelina left Oaxaca, [Mexico] at the age of 14 and traveled alone to Mexico City to find her future. She didn't know anyone in the big city, nor did she speak Spanish, but she did want to study and earn a living for herself and to help her family economically. Her options however, were limited - live on the streets or work as a live-in household worker. She soon discovered the harsh realities of the profession.

Read Marcelina's story


Myrtle Witbooi, South Africa Domestic Service and Allied Workers Union

Myrtle Witbooi, IDWN Chair and General Secretary SADSAWU (South African Domestic Service and Allied Workers Union)

Myrtle Witbooi's struggle to advance the rights of domestic workers worldwide began over forty years ago in South Africa. The fact that in 2010 domestic workers won the right to negotiate a binding ILO Convention in 2011 and could still lose the vote means that the struggle is far from over; it has taken sixty-two years to get to this stage, when rights for domestic workers were first raised at the ILO.

Read Myrtle's story