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Asien-Orient-Institut UFSP Asien und Europa (2006–2017)

Migrant Domestic Workers in East and Southeast Asia

Responsible for the doctoral project: Gabriela Marti, lic. iur., LLM
Research Field: Norms and Social Order(s)


In East and Southeast Asia, various factors, such as significant economic and income disparities between the countries in the region, as well as demographic trends, have stimulated transnational labour migration over the past few decades.

One of the most notable features of these migrant flows has been their increasing feminisation in recent years. In the East and Southeast Asian region, a large number of female migrants move from less prosperous countries to the richer, high-growth states and territories, to work in highly gendered occupations, such as nursing, domestic work, and entertainment.

This PhD research project examines and evaluates the legal regulation of migrant domestic workers (MDWs) in a number of labour sending and receiving jurisdictions in East and Southeast Asia, as well as the relevant bilateral, regional, and international frameworks.

Previous research has repeatedly suggested that the legal regulation of MDWs, particularly at the domestic level of the receiving and sending jurisdictions, falls short of adequately protecting the rights, interests, and wellbeing of these workers. This project inquires whether and how the domestic laws regulating MDWs in the examined jurisdictions fail to reflect the international human rights and labour standards applicable to migrant workers in general, and to MDWs in particular. Furthermore, the study explores how the applicable legal framework might be improved.

Special attention will be accorded to the standards set by the 2011 Convention Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers of the International Labour Organization (ILO) (ILO Domestic Workers Convention, C189). Namely, the study will assess the prospects for a ratification and implementation of the ILO Domestic Workers Convention in the examined jurisdictions.

Ultimately, the study aims to demonstrate the benefits and shortcomings of the present legal framework and its implementation and enforcement in practice, and to develop suggestions for an improved legal regime.