Organising domestic workers : for decent work and the ILO Convention No. 189


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Høgskolen i Oslo og Akershus. Fakultet for samfunnsfag

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Master in International Social Welfare and Health Policy


Domestic work is the largest sector of female employment world-wide, yet it is extremely undervalued and unprotected by labour law. Exasperating this situation, the estimated one hundred million domestic workers world-wide have until recently hardly been organised as workers. The aim of this thesis is to investigate how domestic workers, despite these condi-tions, have never the less organised successfully during the past decade. The study is con-ducted as a literature review, a quantitative methodological approach. In order to understand the variety of organisations that have emerged, part two of this the-sis is committed to delineating characteristics and circumstances of domestic work; a dis-tinguishing feature being the private nature of the employment relationship. An overview of the extent of domestic work, the changing concepts of work and identity formation and central regulatory frameworks are provided as background information. First, my findings reveal that the organisations that domestic workers typically organise in fall into two main categories. One is membership based organisations (MBOs) such as tra-ditional unions, associations or community based organisations, characterised by owner-ship and democratic leadership structures. In contrast the second form, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), support and empower from the “outside”, providing invaluable ser-vices. They do not, however, represent domestic workers, but intervene on their behalf. Mixed forms are common, as are changes of organisational forms over time. This thesis finds secondly that domestic workers have built strong international alliances, thereby gaining growing recognition by parts of the international trade union movement. In this context a trend toward unionisation, up-scaling and transnationalisation can be identi-fied. This has been instrumental to domestic workers representation within the structures of the ILO, and the attainment of a sector specific convention. Importantly, the findings indi-cate that domestic workers’ organising efforts and the ILO preparatory mechanisms for the convention have had a mutually reinforcing effect. Domestic workers’ organising has not been focused on the usual counterpart; the employ-ers, who are generally not organised. Further research on labour relations in the domestic work sector could therefore be an analysis of models in the field of collective bargaining.


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