Domestic Workers Are Being Abused, and Need An International Labor Movement


Demographics regarding domestic workers are nebulous by definition. However, they’re vital to providing protections of those involved with such intimate work with no real employer accountability. 

But new information about the demographics of domestic workers reveal the benefits of approaching domestic workers rights’ from an international perspective.  As Bryce Covert at The Nation reports, “If all domestic workers worked in one country, this country would be the tenth- largest employer worldwide.”  The United States’ labor movement should heed this statistic, and expand its scope internationally in order to create a stronger labor movement and advocate for those whose working rights are denied.

Many of the women who serve as domestic workers internationally are migrants, seeking employment in other countries where the pay might be better, in spite of the lack of protections and support systems available in another country.  These numbers are based on a conservative estimate of the number of domestic workers in the world, only accounting for measurable data.  If this information is any indicator, domestic workers have the potential for incredible power in spite of the poor conditions where they often work. 

Internationally, domestic workers are a significant demographic:  can they translate their large numbers into power and representation?  Many domestic workers face incredible abuse and marginalization.  Saudi Arabia draws many domestic workers, but because of its lack of regulations and innumerable stories of abuse, travel for work to Saudi Arabia has been banned by nations like Indonesia.  However, the draw of greater pay is alluring for domestic workers (which might be why Indonesia’s ban was lifted a few days ago, due to ineffectiveness and the advantages of negotiation), and in spite of the abuse, domestic workers continue to migrate in order to work.  In 2011, the International Labor Caucus adopted the Domestic Workers Convention, which established labor standards for all domestic workers around the world for the first time.  Of course, passing a convention is much easier than enforcing a convention, and organizing domestic workers, who already face so many day-to-day challenges, is an arduous task. 

As unions in the United States face increasing challenges from the right wing, acknowledgment of the struggle of domestic workers around the country may help bolster an international labor movement, empowering domestic workers around the world.  The new economy makes workers increasingly transient, across international borders as well as within nations, and subsequently labor alliances must form across the globe.  The power of domestic workers, and their allies in labor, varies dramatically by nation, and advocacy from those labor activists in the United States is crucial to ensuring the rights of domestic workers both domestically and abroad.  By recognizing the potential in the numbers of international domestic workers and organizing accordingly, unions in the United States would create stronger and more inclusive labor movement, and truly act in solidarity with those fighting for their same ideals.