Unity of Informal Workers is Key to Domestic Workers’ Success

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Elizabeth Tang IDWF hero image
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In this interview, Elizabeth Tang, General Secretary of the International Domestic Workers’ Federation (IDWF), tells us what she hopes to see achieved in the world of work 25 years from now and about the importance of organizing for domestic workers.

Twenty-five years ago, in the 1990s, in some places domestic workers had already formed their own organizations. This was happening even though they were invisible, they were hidden. Our biggest affiliate, which is in Argentina, was formed before the First World War. But, while domestic workers had been organizing earlier, most of the organizations in the IDWF were formed after 2000. And since then, there has been fast expansion.

In the next 25 years we want to see domestic workers recognized as workers and to have legal protection of their rights. They must be protected by labour legislation in the same ways as other workers. We also want domestic workers to enjoy gender equality.

These goals are high on the agenda of our current work. To do this, we support domestic workers everywhere to organize and to do advocacy work.

Being part of the WIEGO network, we know we are in a much larger movement – a much larger family of informal workers, who are women, who are fighting the same fight for recognition, for rights, for social protection. We are together with home-based workers, street vendors, waste pickers.

The IDWF, formed in 2013, grew out of the International Domestic Workers’ Network and was established as a global federation at a founding congress in Montevideo, Uruguay. So we are nine years old now, and that was accomplished with a lot of support from WIEGO. It started in 2006, when domestic worker leaders from various countries of the world started to come together when WIEGO, the IUF (International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations) and the FNV in the Netherlands convened the first-ever domestic workers’ conference worldwide.

Since then, WIEGO has been supporting global leaders of domestic workers to campaign for the adoption of ILO Convention 189 (the International Labour Organization’s Domestic Workers Convention of 2011) and at the same time to build the organization, the IDWF. Domestic workers everywhere are getting organized. We have been able to do this with a lot of support from WIEGO to do capacity building with domestic worker leaders in different countries, to raise funds and to provide translation – even coordination in some places, for example, in Europe.

We support our members in building alliances with different stakeholders. In 25 years' time, we hope that what we have been advocating for, what we have been campaigning for, will be there for us. We believe that – working with our allies and partners – we can achieve this.

Together, in the WIEGO network, we will fight for recognition, we will fight for formal status, and that is how we are going to win.

Note: The majority of domestic workers – 80 per cent – are informal workers. Most domestic workers are employees, and employees are considered informally employed if their employer does not contribute to social security on their behalf or if they do not benefit from paid annual leave or sick leave. Globally, domestic workers earn about 56 per cent of the wages of all non-domestic employees.

This has been edited for brevity. As part of our 25th anniversary celebrations, we are profiling WIEGO’s institutional members – trade unions, cooperatives and associations of informal workers that are active in WIEGO.
Informal Economy Topic
Occupational group
Informal Economy Theme