"Making C189 Real": The Domestic Workers Project

C189 meeting

In 2011, the ILO adopted the Decent Work for Domestic Workers Convention (No. 189, known as C189) and its accompanying Recommendation (No. 201), which extends rights such as paid leave, minimum wages and employment contracts to domestic workers. This victory was achieved through a lengthy, concentrated campaign led by the International Domestic Workers’ Network (IDWN, now the International Domestic Workers’ Federation, IDWF).

After C189 was adopted, the IDWF and its affiliates worldwide turned their attention to securing its ratification and implementation at the national level.

Challenges of Domestic Work

Domestic work is largely informal because domestic work is excluded from legal protection either in law or in practice. Domestic workers experience several challenges, including:

  • Exclusion (in whole or in part) from national labour legislation;
  • Non-implementation of applicable laws due to factors such as limited awareness of workers and employers, resistance by employers; the intimate nature of the employment relationship;
  • Limited enforcement of applicable laws due to limited scope for enforcement in private homes;
  • Limited access to and/or knowledge of formal dispute resolution mechanisms;
  • Limited trade union presence/density in the sector;
  • Limited scope for collective bargaining with employers.

In addition, many domestic workers’ trade unions have limited capacity to understand and interpret the law, which is often written in technical legal language and may not be available in local languages. As a result, domestic workers’ unions are often unable to determine the extent to which the laws apply to domestic workers and to identify the domestic workers’ and employers’ respective rights and duties.

WIEGO's Project - Making It Real

In response to these challenges, WIEGO has partnered with IDWF, a member of the WIEGO Network.

Domestic workers in Joburg union meeting

The objectives of the project are:

  • Increasing the capacity of domestic workers and trade unions to know and understand the ILO standards on domestic work;
  • Increasing the capacity of domestic workers and trade union organizers to identify areas where their national laws are not in line with C189;
  • Providing technical support to IDWF affiliates to support them in efforts to advocate for the implementation of C189 at the national level;
  • Tracking the national efforts to implement C189 through legislation, policy and other measures;
  • Identifying good practice approaches to implementing C189 on specific thematic issues.

We aim to debunk the assumption that C189 is a standalone issue far removed from workers’ everyday realities and trade unions’ struggles. We demonstrate that C189 addresses most of the challenges that domestic workers experience. We encourage trade unions to better understand how the implementation of C189 and its provisions can provide for better rights of workers. We emphasize that domestic workers can play a critical role in implementing C189 by negotiating directly with their employers to gain the rights in the Convention, such as for written employment contracts.

The Domestic Workers’ Legal Toolkit

The Toolkit, developed by WIEGO and IDWF in 2017, comprises:

a) A training manual for organizers on C189, which contains the following information:

  • “Convention 189: what is it?”: a worker-friendly summary of the Convention;
  • A compliance checklist to help domestic workers determine whether their country’s laws and policies are aligned to C189;
  • A model contract of employment and a model pay-slip.
  • Strategies that domestic worker organisations can use to make C189 real in their countries whether their governments have ratified the Convention or not. These include examples from the Caribbean and beyond.

b) A workers’ pamphlet that gives a brief overview of C189

    Access the Toolkit, available in 5 languages.

      IDWF identified Africa as the priority for capacity-building on C189. We tailored the toolkit to Africa and have focused our activities on this region. As the project progresses, we will adapt the toolkit for Latin America and Asia and undertake capacity-building and other activities in these regions.

      The additional version for the Caribbean region that we tailored was developed in 2022.

      VIDEO (2019): Domestic Workers & ILO Convention 189: Making it Real - Africa

      Past Activities and Lessons Learned

      WIEGO and the IDWF convened a capacity-building workshop in Nairobi, Kenya in June 2018. The "Domestic Workers and Convention 189: Making it Real" workshop aimed to increase African IDWF affiliates’ capacity for advocacy and worker education. The workshop, hosted by the Kenya Union of Domestic, Hotels, Educational Institutions, Hospitals and Allied Workers (KUDHEIHA), intersected with International Domestic Workers Day (June 16th).

      The objectives of the workshop were:

      1. To disseminate the draft toolkit among African domestic workers' trade unions and receive feedback on how to improve it;
      2. To share legal tools that domestic worker leaders can use to understand the key provisions of C189 and R201 as they relate to national laws regulating domestic work
      3. To share experiences about workers' efforts to advocate for the implementation of the Convention in African countries and to learn from each other;
      4. To build solidarity among domestic workers on the African continent.

      The workshop brought together 28 organizers and educators from 21 IDWF affiliates from Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, Zanzibar and Zimbabwe.

      Launch of WIEGO-IDWF Domestic Workers’ Legal Toolkit at IDWF Congress in 2018

      The Toolkit was launched at the second IDWF Congress in Cape Town, South Africa, held from 16-19 November 2018.  

      Plans for 2019-2020

      • Negotiation skills and assertiveness training with IDWF affiliates -During the Domestic Workers’ Legal Toolkit Workshop in Nairobi Kenya, WIEGO and the IDWF identified the need for a capacity-building workshop on negotiations and assertiveness skills for IDWF affiliates in Africa. This five-day workshop was held in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania in April 2019
      • Planning to provide technical support to one African IDWF affiliate seeking the implementation of C189
      • Global mapping of the ratification and implementation of C189, and regional reports for Africa and Latin America
      • Research on good practice on the regulation of migrant domestic work, covering both internal and international migration
      • Discussions with IDWF Latin American affiliates to determine how the toolkit can be adapted for the Latin American region 
      Informal Economy Theme
      Occupational group