Domestic workers would get a full-day rest every week and would not be required to remain with employer’s household during their annual leave or rest days, according to the International Labour Organisation’s landmark treaty signed on Thursday.
The UAE and other Gulf states supported this landmark treaty – which means this could be implemented in the region.
"This is a historic moment at the 100th session of the International Labour Conference, and we are making an important turning point," a UAE envoy, speaking on behalf of Gulf states, all of which supported the treaty, told AFP.
However, employers and domestic workers would also be required to submit written contracts mentioning the latter’s rights. The new convention would ensure domestic workers enjoyed conditions "not less favourable" than other workers.
The convention, which was adopted with 396 votes for, 16 against and 63 abstentions, will come into effect upon the ratification of two countries. The Philippines and Uruguay have already said they would ratify the accord.
ILO data, which is a compilation of national statistics, indicate that there were at least 52.6 million domestic workers worldwide in 2010.
Despite the large numbers, domestic workers are still among the most exploited and abused. Many are required to work irregular and long hours for low pay and are given insufficient rest. Live-in domestic workers in particular, can be on call at all times of the day. They are also largely excluded from social protection such as maternity benefits and social security.
Nevertheless, joining the convention is only the first step. Countries would not have to implement the treaty until ratification, while others can also opt not to sign up, which could reduce its bite.
While it has secured the support of countries ranging from the United States, Indonesia, and Brazil, others, such as Britain, abstained.
Britain said it could not vote for the convention as it was "unable to ratify in the foreseeable future."
It noted for instance that it was not practical to apply the same health and safety standards, including inspections, to private households employing domestic workers.
It added that it would be "inappropriate to hold elderly individuals... to the same standards as large companies."
But supporters of the convention and activists believe that the strength of the treaty is that it sets a standard.
"There's an understanding that major sending countries... are in support. They will want the protection that will be provided when dealing with other countries," South Africa's chief negotiator Virgil Seafield told AFP ahead of the vote.