On September 5, a global treaty that gives domestic workers around the world the same rights as other workers in their home countries goes into effect. The Domestic Workers Convention, Number 189, was adopted by International Labour Organization (ILO) members to give the estimated 50 to 100 million domestic workers labor protections such days off, minimum wage coverage, limits to how many hours they work, overtime pay, Social Security benefits, and clear information about the terms and conditions of their employment. It also requires that these workers be protected from violence and abuse and that children be prevented from working in these jobs.
But as of September, only nine countries have ratified the convention: Bolivia, Germany, Italy, Mauritius, Nicaragua, Paraguay, the Philippines, South Africa, and Uruguay. The United States is not among them despite being a member of the ILO.
Domestic workers care for children, cook, clean, and provide home services for the elderly. Yet in the U.S. 20 percent of housekeepers and nearly a third of nannies and caregivers make less than the minimum wage. Home health aides for the elderly and disabled earn so little that nearly 40 percent rely on public benefits to get by. Few of these workers get overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours, but their work can often stretch into the night for those who need round the clock care.
President Obama introduced a rule change that would bring all domestic workers under minimum wage and overtime laws in December 2011 but action to bring it into effect remains elusive. Meanwhile, just two states — Hawaii and New York — have domestic workers bills of rights on the books. While the California Assembly passed a similar bill in May, it hasn’t yet been made law, and last time it was considered Gov. Jerry Brown (D) vetoed it under pressure from big business. A similar bill failed in Oregon in July. Massachusetts, Texas, and Ohio are also expected to consider these laws soon.
This post has been updated to reflect the fact that Germany became the ninth country to ratify the convention in June.