Learn About Domestic Workers

Domestic work covers many different activities, situations and relationships, and so is not easy to categorise.

It includes many tasks such as cleaning, laundry and ironing; shopping, cooking and fetching water; caring for the sick, elderly and children; looking after pets; sweeping and garden-tidying.

It involves workers in many different types of employment relationship:

  • In societies where care workers are employed by the State or organisations subsidised by the State, they often (though not always) benefit from proper employment contracts, union rights, and collective bargaining agreements.
  • With privatisation of such services, however, has come the growth of private supply agencies and a deterioration in working terms and conditions and unionisation.
  • In just a few countries there are collective bargaining agreements between trade unions and confederations of householders.
  • Most domestic work around the world, however, is done through private arrangements between individuals, someone hired in or a family member, sometimes with a written contract but usually with none.
  • Many live-in and are on almost permanent call in that household; others live elsewhere and may work for several employers, perhaps spending only a few hours per week for each.

Domestic work fundamentally involves power relationships. It is:

  • Never free of a gender perspective: in all societies domestic work remains seen as ‘women’s work’; nowhere do men do an equal share of work in the home. It is when women get jobs outside the home that - rather than men of the household doing more of the caring work - other women (or children) are brought in to do it.
  • Often holds a race or ethnic perspective: this is especially so for international migrant workers, whose labour is wanted but who are often met by racism or xenophobia; also within countries women from certain cultures or racial/ethnic groups are more likely to be employed by others from more powerful cultures or groups.
  • Sometimes involves age as a key aspect: in many countries there are still thousands of children doing domestic work in private homes; on the other hand, there are also many older women whose only skills to sell in the labour market are domestic ones.
  • Almost always concerns poverty and class: very few who are not poor leave their own homes to work in those of other people, who are usually more wealthy.

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2014 © International Domestic Workers Federation