It is not surprising that a number of organizations involved in WinWages and the Global Women's Strike are organizations of domestic workers: domestic work is one of the main occupations of women worldwide. For many women it is one of the very few options for paid employment, aside from prostitution. Because housework is unwaged and not recognized as "real work", even when we do it for pay it is one of the lowest paid and lowest status. It is often paid "under the table", undeclared income with no taxes taken out, often done by women who have emigrated from the countryside to the city, undocumented immigrant women, women on welfare . . . and others, including millions of children. This leaves us particularly vulnerable to rape, sexual assault and other violence, slave working conditions where we are cheated out of pay and denied time off, with little or no legal recourse. Many children are kidnapped and forced to work as "domestics".
Overwhelmingly worldwide, domestic workers are not considered "workers" and therefore not covered by labor protection legislation. The National Union of Domestic Employees (NUDE) in Trinidad & Tobago, led by Clotil Walcott founder of the Wages for Housework Campaign in T&T have long been engaged in fighting for domestic workers to be considered workers, including by the International Labor Office. We campaign for protective legislation, employment rights, and take on individual cases of abuse and violence, representing women at industrial tribunals, denouncing violence from employers at the police station and in court.
Apart from the organizations of domestic workers involved in WinWages, many individual women in the network have, as well, found ourselves doing domestic work at one point or another in our lives. Women frequently clean other people's houses long-term, short-term and often on top of raising a family and/or another low paid job. It can be a way to survive as single mothers, or before we get married, to supplement the family income, to put ourselves through school or college, to travel . . . Most domestic workers in the world are on extremely low wages, paid either by exploitative wealthy families or by women who are busy claiming equality for themselves with little regard for the domestic workers whose underpaid hard labor enables them to pursue their careers. In the US and other industrialized countries, domestic work in private homes is sometimes relatively high pay compared to women’s traditional low wages in office work or service work, although there are many cases of slavery, violence and abuse.
Yet despite the many differences among us, women who do (or have done) domestic work in our network see a direct connection between the overwhelmingly low pay and status we receive (or received) and the lack of value placed on that same work when we do it for ourselves and our families in our own homes. But the fact that we can manage to get some wages for housework outside the home is an indication of its value inside the home. The more the unwaged work at home is valued, the more bargaining power we have in jobs outside.
In 1995 in Huairou, China, at the NGO Forum which paralleled the UN World Conference on Women in Beijing, the International Women Count Network (IWCN) held a workshop on counting women's work and domestic work. As a result, domestic workers formed an international network, the International Network of Employees in Domestic Service (INWDS), which included women from many different countries in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Europe, Latin America and North America. INWDS participated in the successful efforts, spearheaded by the IWCN, to get governments to measure and value unwaged work in national statistics and satellite accounts to the Gross Domestic Product.
Domestic workers have also participated in the Global Women's Strike, which was launched on 8 March 2000.
National Union of Domestic Employees, Trinidad & Tobago
Formed in 1982, NUDE fights for domestic workers and other low-paid workers whom unions refuse to represent. Fights against abuses by employers, from rape and sexual assault to withholding wages and summary dismissal, through the courts, in the media, etc, and opposes careerism in the women's movement and voluntary sector. They campaign for domestic workers to be recognized as workers and to be protected by employment legislation.