European & International News

EU Fundamental Rights Agency presents new study on conditions faced by irregular migrants employed as domestic workers

[EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, Brussels, 5 July 2011] The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) is presenting its report on the fundamental rights of irregular migrants who are employed as domestic workers in the EU. Most irregular migrants in domestic work are women. The report shows that their irregular immigration status, coupled with challenges in regulating domestic work more generally, makes this group very vulnerable to exploitation, including cases of physical abuse. Typical forms of exploitation include low pay, often having to work excessive working hours, and usually not being able to obtain compensation for work-related accidents.

"From a fundamental rights perspective, it is key to improve the situation of all domestic workers in the EU - whether they reside regularly or irregularly in an EU Member State. This is reinforced by the ILO Convention Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers, which was adopted in June 2011, and which applies to all domestic workers", says FRA Director Morten Kjaerum.

He continued: "It is up to the governments to decide what labour force to bring into a country from abroad. But once a person is in the country and employed in spite of being in an irregular situation, core labour law and human rights standards must apply. In practice, the fear of deportation or dismissal deters victims of abuse or exploitation from going to court. Because possible deportation is the price of access to justice, often those who mistreat irregular domestic workers go unpunished."

The report is based on in-depth interviews with domestic workers, civil society organisations and trade unions from across ten EU Member States and covers their enjoyment of fundamental rights in five areas: working conditions, dismissal, freedom of association, redress mechanisms and family life.

Main findings

  • Domestic work undertaken by employees is typically less regulated by legal standards and enforcement mechanisms (such as labour inspectorates) than other forms of employment.
  • Domestic work is typically carried out by women - and often migrant women in an irregular situation - who are vulnerable to multiple discrimination because of gender-based forms of violence, including sexual assault, as well as racial discrimination.
  • They typically work for long hours and low pay. Rest periods, paid holidays, and paid sick leave are often not provided, even if available under legislation.
  • A number of physical and mental occupational illnesses were reported, which are exacerbated by the situation of irregular migrants. The threat or fear of dismissal, lack of affordable health care, and lack of paid sick leave was found to deter individuals from seeking medical assistance or taking time to recover - even where injury resulted from work accidents. This sometimes leads to chronic injuries or permanent disability.
  • Individuals seeking access to justice for exploitation or abuse face several barriers. Principally they are deterred by the fear of public bodies alerting the immigration authorities, who may then deport them. Because their employment is often not formalised through a written contract, they also face difficulties in producing evidence of an employment relationship. Similarly, because they work in a domestic context, it can be challenging to prove alleged abuse, for example through a witness.

The report suggests several ways forward, including:

  • The introduction for all domestic workers of clear standards that: impose limits on payments in kind; ensure that where a minimum wage exists in national law, it also covers domestic workers; guarantee rest and sick leave; and create safe and healthy working conditions, as provided for by the ILO Convention adopted in June 2011.
  • Extending supervision by labour inspection authorities to the domestic work sector.
  • The introduction of targeted migration programmes where demand for domestic work is found to exist, which is not met by the available workforce. This would ensure that these workers have a regular migration status and so can enjoy better protection.
  • Facilitate access to justice by ensuring greater support for trade unions and non-governmental organisations which play a key role in providing legal assistance for victims of abuse or exploitation.
  • Find the full report here: Migrants in an irregular situation employed in domestic work: Fundamental rights challenges for the European Union and its Member States
  • Watch the video interview with FRA project manager Adriano Silvestri

For more information about the topic, also visit the following links:

Notes to the editors

The term "domestic work" means work performed by employees in or for a household or households. A person who performs domestic work only occasionally or sporadically and not on an occupational basis is not a domestic worker. Domestic work typically involves providing care for children, the elderly, or persons with disabilities, and housekeeping tasks including cleaning, cooking and shopping. It may also include gardening as well as driving and supplying security services to private households (although these are not covered in the report). It can be live-in (where the worker resides within the employer’s household) or live-out.
This report relates specifically to ‘irregular migrants’ employed in domestic work. This refers to individuals who are not nationals of an EU Member State and are present in an EU Member State without a visa or a residence permit. It does not include individuals who have permission to reside in a Member State, but do not have permission to work.

The ILO (International Labour Organisation) Convention Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers, and its accompanying Recommendation, were adopted on 16 June 2011. These new instruments are aimed at improving the working conditions of domestic workers worldwide.
The ten EU Member States selected for the study were: Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Spain and Sweden. These were chosen in order to reflect a cross-section of: geographic regions; welfare systems; and legal provisions regulating domestic work and the rights of irregular migrants.

The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) is mandated to provide evidence-based advice to EU and national decision-makers, thereby contributing to more informed, solidly framed and contextualised debates and policies on fundamental rights.

Latest video

EWL event "Progress towards a Europe free from all forms of male violence" to mark the 10th aniversary of the Istanbul Convention, 12 May 2021.

Facebook Feed

Get Involved