Analysis Of Working Conditions And Wages Of Domestic Workers In Kenya By George Owidhi, Economist



1.1 Overview of the Working Conditions of Domestic Workers in Kenya.

Domestic Work is “work performed in or for a household” (ILO, 2011). The International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 189 lays down specific basic rights and principles that aim at achieving decent work for domestic workers. Additionally, the ILO Recommendation No. 201 has provided various practical measures on the implementation of Convention 189. This shows that decent work for domestic workers is a key ILO concern. Domestically, the Constitution of Kenya 2010 (Article 41) and the Employment Act (2007) guarantee every worker favorable labor practices including reasonable working conditions that are consonant to high human dignity. Thus domestic workers should be accorded Decent Work. This involves enhancing their occupational safety & health; improving their standards of living; enhancing their social security, proper remuneration as well as ensuring that the rights and fundamental freedoms of the domestic workers are upheld and safeguarded.

These provisions notwithstanding, there exists a variety of decent work deficits for domestic workers in Kenya. For instance, most of the domestic workers work longer than the legally required working hours (8 hours); they do not access social security; majority are paid below the minimum wage levels; and some are sexually harassed among other deficits including improper Occupational, Safety and Health conditions. These decent work deficits lowers the dignity and welfare of domestic workers, calling for possible policy responses to realize the achievement of Decent work for domestic workers as laid down in the ILO Convention 189 and the Goal 8 of the Global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

This paper is motivated by the magnitude of the decent work deficits experienced by domestic workers. The paper seeks to analyze the working and living conditions of domestic workers in Kenya.

1.2 Methodology

This study uses both primary and secondary data. Secondary data involves a review of research work on domestic workers as well as documentaries collected from the monthly meetings of domestic workers held by the Kenya Union of Domestic, Hotels, Educational Institutions, Hospitals and Allied Workers (KUDHEIHA). Primary data collection is done through in-depth interviews with domestic workers as well as domestic work organizers at KUDHEIHA. Focus group discussions were also held with a few employers (14) to get the gist of their perceptions.

Qualitative data analysis is done since issues of domestic workers have little (if any) documental in Kenya.

1.3 Outline of the Report

This paper is structured in four sections. Section one introduces the paper while section two gives the overview of domestic workers in Kenya. In Section three, analysis of the current wages and working conditions of domestic workers in Kenya are presented while section four concludes the paper, providing possible policy propositions that aim to bring decency in domestic work. 


Although Domestic Work is not properly documented, it is more pronounced in Kenya and plays a key role in driving Kenya’s economic growth and development. This section provides a brief overview of domestic work in Kenya as well as the legislative framework regarding it.

2.1 A Brief Overview of Domestic Work in Kenya

The ILO defines domestic work as work that is done in or for a household or households (ILO, 2011). Thus on the basis of this definition, domestic workers in Kenya include: Nannies, Caretakers, Cooks, Gardeners, Cleaners, Drivers, and Security Officers among others. Current statistics show that Kenya has about two million (2,000,000) domestic workers. The wages of the domestic workers are set by the general wages council. In 2015, the wages were increased by 12% to Ksh.10,954 per month (Republic of Kenya, 2015).            

2.2 Labour Legislative Framework on Domestic Work

The Employment Act 2007 defines the basic rights and fundamental freedoms of domestic workers. The statutory minimums that domestic workers in Kenya are entitled to include: At least 21 days Annual Leave; At least 7 days on full pay and 7 days on half pay Sick Leave; At least 90 days Maternity Leave and 14 days Paternity Leave; At least 1 rest day in every 7 day period; Overtime payment; Remuneration must not be less than prescribed minimum wages (currently Kshs.10,954 for those working in major cities like Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu); requisite Statutory deductions such as Pay As You Earn (PAYE); National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) and National Social Security Fund (NSSF) should be made from their pay; and that employment of children below 13 years is unlawful. The law however allows children between the 13-16 years to be employed as domestic workers but must be tasked to do light work.

Through a legal notice issued by the Cabinet Secretary in charge of East Africa Community, Labour & Social Protection in July 2015, a breach of the rules may lead to a jail term of 3 months or a fine of Kshs.50,000 or both. 


This analysis is based on the outcome of 12 monthly meetings held by KUDHEIHA with domestic workers and an in-depth interview of 33 domestic workers (15 in Nairobi and 8 in Kitengela town, Kajiado County).

3.1 Wages and Minimum Wages

An in-depth analysis shows that about 83% of the domestic workers interviewed are paid below the minimum wages (Kshs.10,954 per month). Only about 17% get high and above the minimum wage. These are the domestic workers employed by diplomats and senior government officers. About 50% of the domestic workers earn as low as Ksh.3,500 per month. Moreover, those who earn between Ksh.7,000 to Kshs.10,000 per month inclusively are 22%. This category of workers work for the high class civil servants.

3.2 Salary Increments

Even though the salaries of domestic workers should be influenced by the general wages order, the findings have shown that about 95% of the domestic workers do not get salary increments in line with minimum wage increase provisions. For instance, in 2015, minimum wages were increased by 12 per cent. The respondents indicated that they were not awarded salary increment by their employers. In fact, in most cases, agreements are verbal and the salary increment is at the discretion of the employer.

3.3 Working Hours

The findings indicate that over 95% of the domestic workers work for longer periods than the stipulated legal working hours (8 hours a day). About 60% work for at least 14 hours a day without compensation for overtime. Even though Section 27 of the Employment Act 2007 gives the employer powers to regulate the working hours depending on the nature of the work, it does not imply working over and above the legal normal working hours without compensation.

In most cases, the working hours depend on the amount of work available, the presence of visitors in a household as well as seasons (such as holidays, weekends etc.). Domestic workers work for longer hours when visitors are in a household and as well during holidays when the children are present. Although most of the domestic workers access one rest day in every 7 days, most of the work is piled for them to do on their return from off duty.

Some respondents (9%) reported cases of job losses in the event that they report late on an off day. Moreover, some of the domestic workers (43%) are given off during Christmas. Most of the workers (74%) have no off during public holidays.

3.4 Job Security

The study shows that 87% of the domestic workers do not have job security. There is neither a probation period nor a written contract signed by the employer. In most cases (89%) the duration of employment is at the discretion of the employer. In such cases, the employers terminate their domestic workers without any notice.  It should be noted that in some cases (29%), domestic workers lose their jobs when any disagreement arises between them and their employers.

3.5 Gender and Equality Issues

Gender-based discrimination is highly prevalent among domestic workers. In most cases, female domestic employers prefer male domestic workers while male domestic employers prefer male domestic workers. The study has shown that most single mothers (52%) employ male domestic workers while 57% of bachelors employ female domestic workers.

The study has also shown that domestic workers are also discriminated against on the basis of religion (e.g. Muslims prefer Muslim domestic workers); Literacy (the literate prefer literate domestic workers); tribe (some employer prefer Luhyas, others Luos, etc.). Racial discrimination is as well evident (migrant workers and foreign employers prefer certain races) It should be noted that higher rates (51%) of sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse have been reported by the respondents. In some cases, domestic workers end up being married by their domestic employers leading to broken marriages.

Moreover, in case a female domestic worker becomes pregnant, there is no maternity leave. In most cases, the worker loses her job immediately.                                                                                         

3.6 Occupational Safety & Health of Domestic Workers

The study has shown that only about 13% of the domestic workers have access to health and social security benefits (NHIF & NSSF). These are mostly those employed by senior government officials and diplomats. In the event that domestic workers fall sick, they incur the medical expenses themselves. In worst scenarios, some of the respondents indicated that they are forced to work even when they are sick just for the sake of keeping their jobs. In some cases, sick leave is only granted upon a medical report. When such sick leave is granted, the workers indicated that their salaries are deducted for the days not worked for. Moreover, most of the respondents (59%) indicated that they work without the requisite safety gadgets for their safety, risking their life as they carry out their duties.

3.7 Benefits Drawn from KUDHEIHA by Domestic Workers

By joining KUDHEIHA, the trade union organizing domestic workers in Kenya, domestic workers access several benefits including:

  • Training on Labour laws regarding domestic work
  • Education on reproductive health
  • Sensitization on the rights and fundamental freedoms of a domestic worker
  • Through KUDHEIHA, those that are terminated have been assisted acquire their service pay.
  • Sensitization on dispute resolution and grievance handling
  • A rich platform for experience sharing where mature and experienced domestic workers share with the young joining colleagues
  • A national campaign for the ratification of ILO Convention 189 on domestic work by the government of Kenya.


The study has revealed high levels of vulnerability among domestic workers in Kenya. There is wider range of decent work deficit including poor remuneration, lack of social protection, disregard to workers’ rights as well as lack of social dialogue for domestic workers. The study therefore draws the following policy implications:

  • There is need for ratification of Convention 189 on domestic work in Kenya
  • KUDHEIHA should be supported to bring on board all domestic workers and empower them on the Labour Laws, reproductive health as well as sensitization on grievance handling and dispute resolution.
  • Employers of domestic workers should be sensitized on best practices, the provisions of Employment Act (2007) and the Constitution of Kenya especially the Bill of Rights.
  • The Ministry of East Africa Community, Labour & Social Protection should enforce adherence to the minimum wage provision for domestic workers to eliminate poor remuneration.
  • All domestic workers should access health insurance and social security through statutory deductions and remittance to NHIF and NSSF respectively.



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