A new Convention that will set out the rights domestic workers worldwide should enjoy is to be adopted by a United Nations agency, the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
The move, the first step towards getting governments to enshrine the rights of domestic workers in law, has been welcomed by, among others, the UK-based international development agency Christian Aid, which has been campaigning on the issue with partner organisations in Asia and the Middle East.
Christian Aid's Middle East advocacy officer, Oliver Pearce, commented: "In many cases, domestic work is excluded from national labour standards. Foreign domestic workers are particularly vulnerable as national labour standards also often exclude migrants."
"They are helpless in the face of exploitation, with their working and living conditions going unnoticed by anyone outside their employer’s home," he added.
Pearce went on: "Millions of migrants from south and south-east Asia travel to the Middle East, for instance, to work in private households, in order to remit money back home to their families. Many are not allowed out, even on their day off, and are constantly on call in return for very meagre wages.
"Once adopted by UN member states, the new Convention will mean better protection for domestic workers, better awareness of the conditions they might face, and better informed domestic workers able to stand up for their rights."
Ellene Sana from the Migrant Forum in Asia said the new Convention would "clearly establish minimum standards and rights for all domestic workers, help reduce the worst forms of child labour, the stigmatisation and criminalisation of migrant domestic workers (including undocumented workers), and racial and ethnic discrimination."
At present, there is no agreed set of rights and standards for domestic workers. ILO members – including government representatives, employer groups and workers’ groups – will negotiate the detail of the new Convention over the next year, with a view to its formal adoption at the International Labour Conference in 2011.
Governments will then be encouraged to ratify the new Convention and ensure that their own laws comply with the rights it outlines. The process of agreeing a new Convention has already led a number of countries to improve their laws, fostering greater respect for domestic workers amongst employers and host communities.