Global Labour University

GLU Alumni Research Project

Organizing and Mobilising Domestic Workers in International Comparison

This research project is a collaboration between the GLU alumni research group and a research group located at the International Center for Development and Decent Work (ICDD).

about the project

Main research question:

What kind of strategies are employed by (migrant) domestic workers, trade unions and civil society groups to improve the working and living conditions of domestic workers?


Domestic workers, particularly migrant domestic workers, are confronted with a range of challenges: the private household is an isolated workplace; they are facing individualized contractual and personal relations between employer and employee and often workers’ rights violations such as low wages, non-payment of wages, working long hours, no privacy, abuse of immigration status. Strategies on how to protect domestic workers and strategies on how they can empower themselves differ significantly. They differ for example from a comparative perspective concerning the political opportunity structures and the historical legacies in a country. It also differs due to the previous experiences in speaking up and organising oneself which is related to the political culture and the existence of women’s movements.

Currently, the International Labour Organization (ILO) has put the issue of domestic work on its agenda by discussing and adopting a Convention on “Decent Work for Domestic Workers” (C189). Trade unions as well as domestic workers’ organisations have been mobilizing for it, and are working on having the Convention ratified and implemented worldwide. Nonetheless, there are debates about what extent a Convention will be able to change the situation of domestic workers. The social science research group on domestic work takes up these issues. Its main focus lies in a comparative analysis of how an improvement in working conditions and empowerment of domestic workers can be reached.


The research group consists of members from the ICDD partner institutions and other universities, members from civil society organizations such as trade unions, the International Domestic Worker Network (IDWN) and the RESPECT Network and individuals working in International Organizations. The first workshop took place in Geneva in November 2009; the second workshop was hosted by Universidade de Campinas in July 2010; the third workshop was by the Dutch union FNV Bondgenoten in Amsterdam.

Some group members are active in organising (migrant) domestic workers and developing strategies to gain political influence and empowerment. Members of the group have been invited to conferences and talks to provide input on domestic workers’ empowerment and particularly the ongoing discussions on the creation, ratification, and implementation of the international Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers within the framework of the ILO.

Contact Person

For additional information, please contact:

Project Coordinator:
» Helena Schwenken

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