Domestic workers have been seen as the quintessential example of precarious, informal, hidden and therefore typically unorganized labourers. Notably, their position in the labour markets tends to be negatively affected by contextual factors such as the intersectional construction of gendered, racialized and class-based representations of care and domestic tasks. Nevertheless, recent decades have seen an increasing visibility of this category of workers, due to the strengthening of their organisations and/or the improvement of normative frameworks that impact on their conditions. These transformations invite us to interrogate the processes through which such informal and precarious workers have acquired new (structural, symbolic or associational) power, and the ways in which this power has been used, for what purposes, and by which actors, depending on the context.
This presentation explores these questions by taking a comparative look at key moments in the history for domestic workers’ rights and conditions in the nine countries involved in the DomEQUAL research project (India, Philippines, Taiwan, Italy, Germany, Spain, Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil) starting from the 1950s till today. We focus in particular on how the question of domestic workers rights has come to be, in some specific moments and places, a terrain of intervention for trade unions, political parties, non-profit organisations, etc. We try to assess the interactions among these actors as well as the type of agency that domestic workers themselves have deployed in these different instances, also in relation to the contextual factors simultaneously affecting their conditions in each context.