Members' Research Service By / February 25, 2016

Women and domestic work in the EU

Written by Ulla Jurviste and Irene Penas Dendariena, Domestic work , as defined in the ILO Convention (2011), is work performed…

©shotsstudio / Fotolia

Written by Ulla Jurviste and Irene Penas Dendariena,

domestic work
©shotsstudio / Fotolia

Domestic work , as defined in the ILO Convention (2011), is work performed in or for a household or households;  domestic worker – a person engaged in domestic work within an employment relationship. A person who performs domestic work only occasionally or sporadically and not on an occupational basis is not a domestic worker. ILO  statistics claim that globally 83% of domestic workers are women. More than half of all domestic workers have no statutory limitation of their working hours, more than 2 out of 5 are not entitled to be paid a minimum wage, and more than a third have no right to take maternity leave. Moreover, 29% of domestic workers are excluded from labour legislation with the consequences of not being considered as regular workers. For that matter, domestic workers performing their job undeclared are isolated from others workers executing the same tasks and, therefore, are “invisible”.

According to Eurostat, domestic work includes the activities of households as employers of domestic personnel, such as maids, cooks, waiters, valets, butlers, laundresses, gardeners, gatekeepers, stable-lads, chauffeurs, caretakers, governesses, babysitters, tutors, secretaries etc. It allows the domestic personnel employed to state the activity of their employer in censuses or studies, even though the employer is an individual. The product produced by this activity is consumed by the employing household.

In January 2014 the EU Council adopted a decision authorising Member States to ratify the ILO Convention. Currently, EP FEMM Committee is preparing a Report Women domestic workers and carers in the EU (2015/2094(INI)).


Domestic workers across the world: Global and regional statistics and the extent of legal protection / ILO, 2013; 147 p.
This report presents an overview of the size of the domestic work sector and the extent of legal protection enjoyed by domestic workers. Its findings reflect that domestic work represents a significant share of global wage employment, but domestic workers remain to a large extent excluded from the scope of labour laws and hence from legal protection enjoyed by other workers.

Women, men and working conditions in Europe / EUROFOUND, 2013; 104 p.
This report, based on the 5th European Working Conditions Survey, underlines the case for a gender-sensitive analysis of employment patterns and trends on European labour markets.

International Domestic Workers’ Federation – homepage
A membership-based global organization of domestic and household workers. As of January 2014, includes 47 affiliates from 43 countries. Most of these are trade unions, associations and workers co-ops.

Domestic Workers: Vulnerable Workers in Precarious Work / Malcolm Sargeant; E-Journal of International and Comparative Labour Studies, January 2014; 25p.
This paper introduces the meaning of precarious work and vulnerable workers and, due to the nature of the contractual relationship, classifies domestic work as precarious work.

Universal service employment cheque, France – homepage
Due to complicated administrative procedures required under French law to employ a domestic worker, many households have found it easier to employ undeclared workers. In order to simplify procedures for recruiting domestic workers legally and to combat undeclared work, the French government has introduced various incentive schemes over the last 15 years. The most recent scheme is the ‘Universal service employment cheque’ introduced in 2006.

Titres-services, Belgium – homepage
This system was created in 2004 in order to create jobs and to combat undeclared work in the domestic work sector in Belgium.


Domestic workers in Europe. Getting Organised! / European Federation of Food, Agriculture and tourism trade unions (EFFAT), February 2015
EFFAT booklet co-financed by the European Commission presents the findings of the study showing the good practice examples of what trade unions do and can do for domestic workers.

ILO Domestic Work Policy Brief nr 7 / Claire Hobden; ILO, November 2013; 8 p.
“By virtue of living in the household, live-in domestic workers, mainly young women, and their employers are likely to build close ties, working and living together for many years. However, living in the homes of their employers has also meant that live-in domestic workers on average work far more hours per day and per week than almost any other category of workers. In some cases, the isolation of domestic workers in the household has meant that they are expected to be available to work around the clock, with very little rest.”

Exploring order and disorder: Womens experiences balancing work and care / Louise Wattis, Liz James; European Journal of Women’s Studies, Vol 20, Issue 3, 2013
This article explores how working mothers negotiate the often competing spheres of paid work and unpaid domestic and care work. Drawing upon qualitative data from a varied sample of women, it discusses the impact of workplace demands on home life, women’s attempts to contain the domestic sphere so as not to disrupt paid work, and the emotional conflicts inherent to combining dual roles. In addition, the article applies Bauman’s concepts of order and disorder to women’s experiences of work–care negotiation. Whilst it is recognized that Bauman’s work largely ignores gender, his discussion of solid modernity with its emphasis on order and the transition to liquid modernity with its emphasis on disorder provide a useful theoretical lens through which to illuminate women’s accounts of managing dual roles.

Domestic Workers Across the World : Global and regional statistics and the extent of legal protection / ILO, January 2013; 134 p.
More than 50 million people worldwide, mostly women, are employed as domestic workers. This publication sheds light on the magnitude of domestic work, a sector often “invisible” behind the doors of private households and unprotected by national legislation. For too long, this group – a large majority of whom are women – has remained outside the realm of policy-making on social and labour issues, and has largely been confined to the informal economy. (repeated)

Ending child labour in domestic work and protecting young workers from abusive working conditions / ILO, 2013; 104 p.
The report by ILO outlines why involvement of children in domestic work should be a global concern and presents the basic concepts in this area as well as the required responses. It looks into child domestic work as a social development priority, a human rights concern and a gender equality challenge.

Claiming Rights. Domestic Workers’ Movements and Global Advances for Labor Reform / Human Rights Watch, 2013
This joint report, co-produced by the International Domestic Workers’ Network (IDWN), the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and Human Rights Watch, traces the progress made in labor law reform in several governments between the years 2011 and 2013 and the increasing importance of domestic workers’ rights movements.

Irregular migrant domestic workers in Europe : who cares? / Anna Triandagyllidou, Farnham, Ashgate, 2013; 235 p.
The book traces the issue of domestic work, with specific attention to irregular migrant workers, introducing studies achieved in ten European countries (Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain). Moreover, it gives a comparative analysis of the engagement of irregular migrants in different kinds of domestic work.

Migrants in an irregular situation employed in domestic work: Fundamental rights challenges for the European Union and its Member States / European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, July 2011, 68 p.
The report accounts the situation of irregular migrants in the European Union. This is one of the two thematic reports complementing an upcoming comprehensive overview of irregular migrant’s fundamental rights in the 27 Member States of the European Union.

Extension of social protection of migrant domestic workers in Europe / ILO, 2013; 16 p.
This keysource presents the legal framework of social protection for migrant domestic workers in Europe.

Abused Domestic Workers in Europe: The case of au pairs: Study / Policy Department C, PE 453.209, October 2011; 139 p.
This study analyses au pair arrangements in six EU Member States (Denmark, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain) through descriptions of national and international legal frameworks and practices of au pairing. The findings show different patterns of au pair migration and different situations of au pairing as well as different strategies to protect the au pairs. The overall recommendation is to separate current au pair immigration into two programmes: one of cultural exchange and one of domestic and care work.

Stakeholder views


ILO website Domestic Workers and  publications on domestic work

ILO Resources on Domestic Work: Catalogue

Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189) and R201 – Domestic Workers Recommendation, 2011 (No. 201)

Follow up to the adoption of the resolution concerning efforts to make decent work a reality for domestic workers worldwide (GB.312/INS/3)

ILO strategy: Making decent work a reality for domestic workers


Report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights on unpaid care work / Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona, United Nations General Assembly, Document A/68/293, 9 August 2013, 24 p.
In this report unpaid care work is positioned as a major human rights issue. Focusing on women caregivers, particularly those living in poverty, the Special Rapporteur argues that heavy and unequal care responsibilities are a major barrier to gender equality and to women’s equal enjoyment of human rights, and, in many cases, condemn women to poverty. Therefore, the failure of States to adequately provide, fund, support and regulate care contradicts their human rights obligations, by creating and exacerbating inequalities and threatening women’s rights enjoyment. The report analyses the relationship between unpaid care and poverty, inequality and women’s human rights; clarifies the human rights obligations of States with regard to unpaid care; and finally provides recommendations to States on how to recognize, value, reduce and redistribute unpaid care work. Ultimately, it argues that State policies should position care as a social and collective responsibility, in particular through improving women’s access to public services, care services and infrastructure.”

UN instruments relevant on domestic work

Checklist to Protect and Support Domestic Workers / UN Women, 2012; 4 p.

General Comments of Committee on Migrant Workers:

  • General Comment No. 1 on Migrant Domestic Workers
  • General Comment No. 2 on the Rights of Migrant Workers in an Irregular Situation and Members of their Families

European Parliament

Resolution on the proposed ILO Convention supplemented by a Recommendation on domestic workers ( RSP/2011/2678 )

Resolution of 19 October 2010 on precarious women workers ( 2010/2018(INI) )

Resolution of 13 September 2011 on the situation of women approaching retirement age ( 2011/2091(INI) )

Resolution of 4 February 2014 on undocumented women migrants in the European Union ( 2013/2115(INI) )

Directive 2006/54/EC of the European Parliament and the Council of 5 July 2006 on the implementation of the principle of equal opportunities and equal treatment of men and women in matters of employment and occupation (recast)

European Economic and Social Committee

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘The professionalisation of domestic work’ (additional opinion), 12 May 2010 ( 2011/C 21/07 )

Human Rights Watch

The ILO Domestic Workers Convention. New standards to fight discrimination, exploitation and abuse / Human Rights Watch Brief, 2013; 8 p.

Map: Global Progress for Domestic Workers , 2013

European Network of Migrant Women

ENoMW Statement for International Domestic Workers’ Day 2014 , 16 June 2014.

“On the occasion of International Day of Domestic Workers, the European Network of Migrant Women [ENoMW] draws the attention of the European Union institutions and all national andEuropean stakeholders to the situation and treatment of Domestic Workers within the European Union member states, as well as their contribution to European society.”

International Domestic Workers Federation

IDWF Website and publications

Respect Network European

Press Release of RESPECT Network Europe: The narrative of human rights and labour migration unpacked

Case law

ECHR, Case of Siliadin v. France, Application no. 73316/01 , 26 July 2005 and related information .

ECHR, Case of C.N. v. The United Kingdom, Application no. 4239/08 , 13 November 2012 and related information .

ECHR, Case of C.N. et V. v. France, Application no. 67724/09 , 11 October 2012 and related information .

The United Kingdom Supreme Court, Case Hounga , 30 July 2014.

Queen’s Bench Division Court, Case O.O.O. and others v. Commissioner , 20 May 2011.


Domestic workers across the world: Global and regional statistics and the extent of legal protection / ILO, 2013; 147 p.
This report presents an overview of the size of the domestic work sector and the extent of legal protection enjoyed by domestic workers. Its findings reflect that domestic work represents a significant share of global wage employment, but domestic workers remain to a large extent excluded from the scope of labour laws and hence from legal protection enjoyed by other workers.

Women and men in the informal economy: a statistical picture / ILO, 2013; 219 p.
This publication provides statistics on the composition and contribution of the informal economy, also, presents statistics on specifics groups of urban informal workers, including domestic workers.

EU programmes and projects

Decent Work for Domestic Workers . The state of labour rights, social protection and trade union initiatives in Europe / Programme for Workers’ Activities of International Training Centre of the International Labour Organisation (ACTRAV/ITC-ILO), 2012; 36 p.

Global Action Programme on Migrant Domestic Workers and their Families. Promoting decent work for migrant workers worldwide

Migrant Domestic Workers Act Against Violence – Acting Together !
This project aimed at improving the conditions of migrant domestic workers in Europe and raising awareness of the issue. It is a project funded under the Daphne Funding Programme.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply