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Engaging United Nations Treaty Bodies on Worker Rights

Repositorio de Prácticas

Engaging United Nations Treaty Bodies on Worker Rights

Primary GCM Objectives

Secondary GCM Objectives


Principios Rectores del Pacto Mundial para la Migración*

*All practices are to uphold the ten guiding principles of the GCM. This practice particularly exemplifies these listed principles.

Objetivos de Desarrollo Sostenible (ODS)


2018 - 2024

Geographic Scope

Ámbito geográfico:



Domestic Worker Rights coalitions have submitted alternate reports to the United Nations Treaty Bodies reviewing particular countries, which identify violations of human rights treaties, experienced by domestic workers under the Convention on Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Convention on Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), all of which protect the civil and collective labour rights of “everyone” and are therefore not restricted by employment status or migration status. The reports have highlighted the intersectional discrimination experienced by migrant domestic workers in particular countries, and gaps in both formal laws and implementation of those laws. Since these workers tend to be live-in, the issues of privacy, freedom from violence and harassment, freedom of movement, and minimum standards of housing, are brought to the fore. The submissions are supplemented with written statements, and participation (virtually or in person) in briefings with UN Committee members. In these private briefings, the migrant worker associations have directly addressed Committee members to highlight priority issues and answer questions based on the facts on the ground. These briefings offer an alternate description that that offered by particular states, on challenges to realization of rights. These briefings inform the questions posed by the committees the country being reviewed, in the high level UN dialogue. Consequently, representative country delegates are compelled to publicly respond to difficult questions on the ways in which they are complying with treaty obligations with respect to domestic worker rights. These engagements are primary examples of grassroots internationalism that have proved effective in identifying and refining the challenges faced by domestic workers and ensure that the interpretation of particularly rights is responsive and reflective of domestic and migrant workers experience.


Principales organizaciones implementadoras

Solidarity Center

Des informations détaillées

Solidarity Center with a broad coalition of unions, worker rights associations and public interest lawyers

Organizaciones asociadas/donantes

A broad coalition of unions, worker rights associations and public interest lawyers

Beneficio e impacto

Benefits include coalition building between unions and civil society and public interest lawyers; placing core domestic worker rights issues on the international human rights agenda so the country being reviewed has to respond immediately and then again at four yearly cycles, on the measures they are taking to comply with the recommendations issued by the particular treaty body. Impacts also include important concluding observations that tend to take the issues further. For example, reports submitted for South Africa under ICESCR (2018), CEDAW (2023) and CERD (2023), resulted in recommendations that South African domestic workers be included in workers compensation legislation (COIDA); that labour inspectors in domestic settings be without notice or warrant and that one national minimum wage apply across the board.These concluding observation were cited in Constitutional Court judgment (Mahlangu v Minister of Compensation, 2020), declaring exclusion of domestic workers from COIDA unconstitutional, and successful submissions on exclusions of domestic workers from national minimum wage.

Under the review of Zimbabwe (2022),CERD recommended that Zimbabwe address discrimination on intersection grounds of race, class and gender and provide domestic workers with mechanisms to claim rights through collective bargaining. It also recommended that they include domestic workers a minimum wage at a level that guarantees them a living wage equal to other workers, and more broadly that informal workers be included in labour law protection. One recent impact of this recommendation is recent litigation launched by the domestic worker union challenging the exclusion of domestic workers from workers compensation.

In a review of Lesotho under ICCPR (2023) the Committee recommended that labour inspectors be permitted to inspect private homes and inspect the situation of children employed as live-in domestic workers. Lesotho recently amended its labour law to address these issues.

In a review of Qatar under CERD (2024), the Committee recommended Qatar address direct, indirect and structural discrimination as well racial discrimination against non-nationals, particularly those from South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. It recommended Qatar abolish the exit permit requirement entirely and ensure timely wage payments. It found female migrant domestic workers often face harsh working conditions including physical, verbal, and sexual assault and recommended accessible mechanisms for them to report violations without fear of retaliation.

Lecciones clave

Since the coalition has now submitted a number of reports under numerous different human rights treaties (listed above just a sampling of these submissions), we have learnt which treaties are particularly responsive to domestic worker rights, and their narratives around inteeoreteing these rights. For example, CERD, and to some extent CEDAW, adopt the lens of intersectional discrimination, which is critical to understanding the layered context of the gaps identified. We have also learnt that the oral briefing part of the engagement with the Committee is as important, if not more important than the written submission, since it allows the committee to understand the lived reality directly from worker associations. Finally, working as a coalition which includes worker rights associations and public interest lawyers, facilitates the subsequent process of implementing the recommendations in particular countries, through collective advocacy and impact litigation.

Recomendaciones(para replicar)

Engaging UN Treaty bodies on domestic worker rights is highly replicable in different countries, and is resource light. While coalition building is important, restricting the subject of the submission to worker rights, and more specifically domestic worker rights, ensures that the submission has sufficient space to provide context and depth, to understanding the particular issues experienced in a particular country. Ensuring that worker associations orally address the Committee to explain their lived realities and answer questions based on their knowledge, has proved critical to ensuring responsive and relevant concluding observations. The UN treaty body engagement process is not onerous. Indeed the concluding observations are made public approximately two weeks after the country review.

In terms of substances the wide range of rights entrenched in the different human rights treaties lend itself to creatively thinking about the challenges faced by workers which often times goes beyond traditional labour issues (national minimum wage and collective rights) and include human rights issues such as freedom of movement, rights to privacy and family, and access to social security.


Engaging United Nations Human Rights treaty bodies through submitting alternate reports on domestic worker rights is innovative and worth replicating. It innovative and inclusive and facilitates coalitions which combine grassroots activists with lawyers and civil society activists; it is also institutionally and conceptually innovative because bridges a conceptual labor-human rights divide. This is particularly important given the low rate of ratification (particularly in Africa) of ILO C189 on domestic work, and the high rate of ratification of the core UN Human Rights treaties. At a very basic level, the engagement puts particular domestic worker rights issues on the global human rights agenda, and high profile government officials have to respond publicly to allegations of failing to comply with treaty obligations as they apply to domestic workers. The concluding observations themselves have helped refine and develop legal norms, often times even beyond provisions in C189 (for example on labour inspection in private homes without prior notice or warrant) and clarify state obligations with respect to domestic workers.

Fecha Enviado:

21 May 2024

*Todas las referencias a Kosovo deben entenderse en el contexto de la Resolución 1244 [1999] del Consejo de Seguridad de las Naciones Unidas.