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date: 23 May 2017

Domestic Service and Labor Laws in Chile and Argentina, 1931–1956

Summary and Keywords

The regulation of labor relations and social rights substantially changed workers’ lives over the course of the 20th century. Domestic service, however, was only poorly and belatedly protected under labor law, and its incorporation proceeded in a slow, ambiguous, and nonlinear manner. The specific ways in which domestic service regulation emerged in Chile and Argentina, respectively, offer insight into this process and also present some important contrasts, despite the nations’ geographic proximity. In Chile, although the rights recognized for household workers were limited, the Labor Code of 1931 included an article on domestic service. In Argentina, the first comprehensive regulation for this sector was a special statute sanctioned by decree in 1956. In both cases, the “special” nature of such regulation was attributed to the place of domestic service in family life. As domestic labor was reconceptualized through legislative reform in each country, household workers gradually came to enjoy some, but not all, of the rights guaranteed to other workers.

Keywords: household work, labor rights, gender, parliamentary debates, state regulation


The increasing regulation of labor and recognition of workers’ social rights substantially changed the living conditions of workers over the course of the 20th century. But paid domestic labor performed across the globe remained poorly regulated and was only belatedly included in labor legislation, through processes that were slow, ambiguous, and nonlinear.1 This article compares the early efforts to regulate this sector in Chile and Argentina—countries that, despite their geographic proximity, followed different routes to the regulation of domestic service.

In each country, a series of bills to regulate domestic service were introduced in the 1920s, but these proposals were never passed. Instead, the recognition of household workers’ labor rights was delayed, for a decade in Chile and for two decades in Argentina. In Chile, the Labor Code of 1931 contained a special article that addressed domestic service. In Argentina, starting in the early-1940s a number of laws that mentioned domestic service were passed, and the first comprehensive regulations for this sector were approved in 1956. However, in both cases, even those rights granted to household workers were limited, in ways that speak volumes about the gendered construction of labor. This article examines why workers in domestic service were legally excluded from laws granting rights to other workers, as well as the early existence of legislative proposals that, though unsuccessful, sought to regulate this sector. Building on an analysis of Argentine and Chilean legislation—and a critical reading of relevant parliamentary debates, legal doctrines, and regulatory efforts—it is possible to analyze similarities and differences in the early regulation of paid domestic labor in the two countries.

The civil codes and social legislation enacted in each country responded not only to different local and national contexts, but also to the international discussion about domestic service evident in publications, professional networks, and international organizations. As Asunción Lavrin has demonstrated, “the similarity between the Argentine and Chilean labor regulations shows that these nations kept a close watch on each other’s ideas and that legislators were steering toward adopting what they viewed as ‘advanced’ labor legislation.”2 At the dawn of the 20th century, legislators in both countries—along with labor leaders, clergy engaged in social Catholicism, and upper-class women involved in Pan-American women’s networks—debated the possibility of protecting and regulating domestic service, often communicating with each other through international conferences and publications.

Even beyond trans-Andean networks, the comparison of the Argentine and Chilean cases also reflects the development of regional and global discussions on broader topics of labor, the state, and gender that took place in the 1920s and 1930s. In the legislative initiatives of this period, we see that the construction of “workers” as a legal subject, and the mechanisms through which legislators sought to regulate their labor, made domestic labor invisible in the regulatory apparatus of the state. In addition to explaining the diverse origins and eventual decline of this invisibility, this comparison of the Chilean and Argentine cases clearly demonstrates how these emerging welfare states advanced by characterizing certain types of work—reproductive, service, and informal—as beyond the reach of state action. As Jocelyn Olcott has pointed out, “just as the study of public policy sheds light on domestic practices, investigating reproductive work helps us to better understand the process of state formation.”3 A comparative analysis of the legislative projects regarding domestic service confirms this claim, revealing when and how state authorities began to talk about labor relations in the “private space” of the home and offer belated recognition of household workers as citizens entitled to labor rights.

The changing legal status of household workers in Chile and Argentina has shaped the history of labor in the Southern Cone in at least two important ways. On the one hand, the study of domestic service documents the experience of a sizeable proportion of women workers in Latin America. For much of the 20th century, domestic service constituted the principal occupation for working women in the region.4 In Argentina in 1914, for example, roughly the same number of women (57,000) were employed in domestic service as those holding jobs in weaving, tailoring, and sewing; in 1947, almost 30 percent of economically active women in the country were employed in domestic service.5 In Chile, on the other hand, roughly 40 percent of economically active women in the first few decades of the century were employed in domestic service (a higher-than-regional average), and women made up over four-fifths of the workers employed in domestic service overall.6 The increasing proportion of women in domestic service trades demonstrates the fundamental importance of gender in the definition and regulation of work associated with the domestic sphere.

On the other hand, when one considers male household workers who redefined their labor as non-domestic in this period, the study of domestic service also raises more general questions about labor politics. Throughout this period, the very definition of domestic service as an occupation was disputed among a range of different actors. The precise definition of domestic service established just who was included in that category, and, consequently, which workers could seek refuge through other categories that guaranteed rights denied to household workers as such. These divisions represented gendered cleavages, eventually excluding from domestic service those masculine occupations that relied on “technical” knowledge or a greater connection to the “public” sphere. Using Joan Scott’s formulation, we could say that gender operates historically as “a constitutive element of social relationships based on perceived differences between the sexes,” one that conditions the historical definitions of work and the ways in which the State regulates it.7 In this sense, in addition to the overwhelming presence of female household workers, it is possible to see that domestic service itself became a progressively more “female” occupation during this time period because of the exodus of chauffeurs and other male workers from the category of household labor in the 1930s and 40s.

This article reviews the initial laws to regulate domestic service that were presented—but not passed—in the Chilean and Argentine legislatures in the first decades of the 20th century. It points out the legal treatment of domestic service as a special kind of work, which, from the point of view of legislators, should only be regulated by specific legislation. It also analyzes the impact of the changing definitions of domestic service on the laws that were actually passed after 1931 in Chile and 1940 in Argentina, and the gendered politics that conditioned the limitations of household workers' labor rights in both cases. The article shows that the labor rights of household workers were achieved just as stricter definitions of “domestic service” were instituted, thereby increasing the feminization of this sector, a process that had begun in the latter decades of the 19th century.

Labor Regulation and the Exclusion of Domestic Service in Argentina and Chile (1855–1931)

In Chile as in Argentina, the late 19th century was marked by an increasing focus on the social question and state regulation by a diverse group of social actors: doctors, religious leaders, and businessmen, along with a growing number of state ministries and inspectors devoted to studying, debating, and taking legislative action to improve labor relations.8 Despite their disagreement on many points, many of these state officials agreed that increasing industrialization, labor movements, and urbanization made the social question an urgent one for the state. In that context, at both a national and international level, these debates were focused on industrial labor. The novelty of industrial work justified state intervention in labor relations, which up until that point had been considered “private” and subject only to employer control. These emerging regulations only protected industrial occupations, excluding those that were still considered “traditional,” such as peasants, sellers, and servants.9

Even as the increasing regulation of labor provoked resistance from employers—and at times from workers themselves—which in turn delayed sanctions and other effects of labor laws, legislators from across the political spectrum agreed from early on that the labor of women and children should be subject to regulation. The vulnerability of these sectors, as well as concerns about public health (often expressed in terms of eugenics), made women and children the first categories of workers subject to legal protection: in Argentina and in Chile, the first laws protecting women and children in the workplace were passed in 1907.10 Although the implementation of these laws was highly problematic (and in Chile, lacked regulatory guidelines until the 1920s), the fact of their existence demonstrates how, in both Argentina and Chile, socialist, Catholic, and conservative legislators achieved consensus when it came to regulating the work of children and of women, particularly in their status as mothers and mothers-to-be.11

Domestic service was exempt from those regulations, despite the fact that, in both countries, it was a highly feminized occupation in which many children were also employed.12 Because of the deep historical roots of domestic service in patron-servant relations, and the fact that it usually took place in the private and familial sphere, domestic service was considered a “traditional occupation,” one not subject to state regulation. However, whereas other labor sectors that had been originally excluded were incorporated into labor law by the 1920s (including, for example, workers in commerce), domestic service continued to be legally excluded from the protections guaranteed to other workers.

To be precise, in Argentina, the exclusion of domestic service from regulatory norms was justified by the fact that this occupation was regulated by custom and therefore shaped by local practices that national laws could not change. The Civil Code of 1869 had effectively established that this labor activity should be regulated by municipal ordinances. As Mirta Lobato and Juan Suriano have argued, the forms of salaried work that had become dominant towards the end of the 19th century were not national in scope and did not apply to all workers. In many regions, domestic service was characterized by complex ties of dependency between employers and workers. At the end of the 19th and start of the 20th centuries, these relations changed dramatically, in a process Fernando Remedi has described as mercantilization.13 However, some time would pass before a consensus would emerge about the need to regulate domestic service itself, throughout the country, and eliminate legal boundaries to the regulation of this sector.

The Chilean and Argentine contexts were very similar in this time period. Both the 1833 Constitution and the 1855 Civil Code left “servants” with no legal rights. Article 7 of the Civil Code, for example, required labor contracts for household workers, but allowed only the employer to break those contracts; the “servant” had to give her employer two weeks’ pay in order to leave a job. Chilean household workers—overlooked in all regulatory proposals considered by the parliament in the early 20th century—would see a change in their status only in the 1920s, when a small association of household workers approached legislators of the Liberal Party, proposing a new law that would have incorporated domestic service in emerging legislative proposals. Although these proposals would fail, this effort made domestic service trades visible to lawmakers in ways that would allow the association’s leaders to develop important political alliances in the future.

The “Vulnerability” of Domestic Service: Conditions for Early Legislative Proposals

Despite the exclusion of domestic service from protective legislation described above, some protested this and sought to incorporate household workers in social laws in Chile and Argentina from very early on. In Argentina, after the creation of several sweeping laws such as Sunday rest (1905), work accidents (1915), and workday (1929), a number of legislators from the Socialist and Unión Cívica Radical parties presented legal proposals that would have incorporated domestic service into these laws.14 The proposals were grounded in two types of arguments, positions that were also evident in Chilean legislative debates in that period. One of these arguments stressed that household workers had exactly the same needs—such as need for rest—as other workers, as well as the same need for dignity. The legislators that supported them emphasized the “backwardness” that characterized workers in domestic service, which stood in opposition to the industrial work that had emerged in tandem with the advance of “modernity,” and was concentrated in large urban centers. It was necessary to regulate this work, the proposals argued, because the conditions of servitude in which most household workers lived were incompatible with modern society. In a second line of argument, legislators argued that most household workers were women and children, and stressed their fundamental vulnerability when employed in domestic service. Arguments for the protection of domestic service also rested on the identification of household workers’ bodies with the productivity and health of the nation (the “collective body”). This hegemonic discourse circulated among clergy, elite women, labor leaders, doctors, inspectors, and legislators, and aligned well with the above arguments about the protection of women and child labor.

Labor leaders from a variety of political movements also appropriated these arguments, stressing not only the vulnerability of household workers but also their right to exercise citizenship through dignified work. The Argentine International Domestics’ League, which worked closely with the Socialist Party, was created in 1901 and gained legal status in 1912, becoming one of the first organizations to demand rights for household workers. News of this political organization also reached Chile, where the group was cited as an example in the labor press.15 In Chile as in Argentina, socialist leaders were the most attentive—and from an early date—to the problem of “servitude” and ready to support household workers, promoting their cause through the labor press by putting political pressure on the political leadership of their parties.

In Chile, the first efforts to protest the exclusion of domestic service from labor legislation also emerged among workers in the country’s first organization, “The Society for the Future of Household Workers.” Having failed to gain any special mention of domestic service in Liberal labor and social welfare legislative proposals of 1921, in 1923 the Society for the Future called on Congress to overturn the constitutional exclusion of household workers from suffrage and to legislate the protection and regulation of domestic service. Significantly, their petition focused especially on women household workers, arguing that working conditions and moral dangers were particularly grave for wives and mothers employed in domestic service. The activists argued that tasks that are dangerous for women’s reproductive health should be prohibited, and work hours should be contractually limited, allowing women to care for their own children, attend night school, and maintain a home, “which would avoid prostitution and illegitimate children.” The petition closed with a demand for severance pay indexed to years of service, and for the law’s implementation through a new section of the Labor Office.16

Spurred on by petitions received from household workers’ groups, Argentine legislators in the 1920s presented a variety of legal proposals for the systematic regulation of domestic service. In most of these proposals, the vulnerability of these workers, male and female, remained a key argument. For example, the basic arguments of the proposal presented in 1926 by socialist deputy Agustín Muzio—a proposal that was not even discussed in parliament—concentrated on the social dangers generated by this unregulated work sector. He went on to state that those employed in domestic service generally suffered from poor living and working conditions, which made them more likely to contract diseases such as tuberculosis. On the other hand, although Muzio described an occupation that employed workers of many ages and both sexes, in his arguments he emphasized the participation of women and children, saying that these workers were particularly at risk of falling into prostitution.17

The vulnerability of household workers was also the focus of social Catholic arguments for regulation. In Chile, as in many parts of the world, the influence of Catholic religious orders on the domestic service sector since the 19th century was extremely important, in both cultural and institutional terms (where the Church housed, trained, and found work for girls in domestic service).Several congregations of female religious had since the 19th century provided services, training, and/or religious education to poor women. In particular, the House of Mary (1861) and the Institute of the Sisters, Daughters of Mary Immaculate for Domestic Service and the Protection of Youth in General (1913) focused their efforts on housing poor girls and training them for a life of “honorable work,” generally in domestic service.18 In the early decades of the 20th century, these and other Catholic institutions—both in Chile and Argentina—offered vocational training and placement for female orphans, migrants, and prostitutes in their care. By the 1920s the Chilean “Catholic Women’s Unions” ran an employment agency devoted largely to placing women in domestic service jobs. Catholic institutions promoted training of poor women and girls as household workers, a focus that would flourish in later Catholic campaigns for the protection and dignification of household workers.19

Ambivalent Proposals to Regulate Domestic Service

Although it was the very vulnerability of workers in domestic service that motivated campaigns to regulate that sector through special laws, the actual proposals not only failed to grant them greater protection, but even created strict limits on those rights they were granted. Compared to the existing legislation that protected the hours, wages, and working conditions for other workers, these proposals envisioned only the most basic protections for household workers. Muzio’s proposal, for example, guaranteed household workers a ten-hour workday (reduced to eight hours for minors, and to be completed between 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m.). In effect, from the point of view of workers’ rights, although Muzio’s law would have limited the length of household workers’ workday, those hours would not necessarily be equal to those enjoyed by the rest of the workforce. Two years before, women’s workday was reduced to eight hours, but this regulation only covered those female workers employed in industrial and commercial establishments.20 Moreover, three years after Muzio issued his proposal, the Argentine workday would be limited to eight hours daily for most workers, but domestic service would be exempt. To justify this exclusion, legislators would make reference to the “special” character of domestic service relations.21

Chilean legislators and labor inspectors also expressed ambivalence about just how much household workers could and should be “protected.” Although a 1928 Labor Office report affirmed that household workers should be granted two hours off per week, allowed to unionize and bring complaints before the labor courts, and receive severance pay if fired without cause, officials nevertheless recommended against imposing a limit on work hours, mandating Sunday rest, and setting a minimum wage, citing “current circumstances” and “the very nature of domestic service” as justification.22 In other words, while some employer abuses should be curbed, other aspects of this convivencia (literally, “living together”) remained outside of the regulatory purview of the state.23

Despite Chilean legislators’ reluctance to extend full protections to household workers, in the arena of social welfare the state systematically incorporated them as worker-citizens. Although the sweeping labor provisions issued by military decree in 1924 excluded household workers, they were included in the Obligatory Insurance Law (4054), which granted welfare support for illness, maternity, disability, and old age for workers in all trades, including paid maternity leave and other benefits for pregnant workers. Excluded from the broader benefits granted by the 1924 Labor Code to women employed in industry and commerce, such as extended maternity leave, breastfeeding, and child care provisions, household workers nevertheless received medical and social assistance through the Obligatory Insurance Fund, which provided all pregnant women with prenatal and postpartum care in state clinics, as well as a stipend equal to the mother’s salary of two weeks’ pay before and after the birth.24 The Obligatory Insurance Fund also fostered sustained contact between household workers and state insurance offices, inspiring a rash of medical and social work studies in the 1940s that argued for the fuller incorporation of domestic service into the Chilean Labor Code.25

Because of the evident contradiction between labor laws that excluded domestic service and a social security system that included them, the Labor Office received many queries about the applicability of labor laws to household workers throughout the 1920s. Although the Labor Office had no jurisdiction in labor complaints concerning domestic workers, this did not stop employers and workers alike from seeking judgement and compensation through that office. In 1924 and 1925 in particular, dozens of severance complaints were fielded by labor officials, who indicated their lack of jurisdiction, sent the complainants to civil court, or in rare cases compensated workers whose employers would not pay severance fees. Handwritten letters from employers record why they had denied severance pay to their workers, citing their laziness, insolence, inability, and tendency to quit work. Workers themselves generally complained of late or poor pay and abuse at the hands of female employers, claims to which inspectors seemed to be sympathetic, but not always responsive. Employers themselves were well aware that recent labor legislation—particularly the Decree-Law 4053 on Labor Contracts—excluded household workers: Manuel Gaeta Rojas argued that he owed his servant Ester Pino no severance pay after she was fired for disrespecting her female boss, because the law “expressly excludes those employed in domestic service from the benefits of that law.”26 Responding to similar queries, officials argued that this exclusion prevented them from intervening in specific cases, and in 1928 instructed their inspectors to refer these cases to lower and regional courts.27 Significantly, in most cases where severance was ultimately paid, workers had served their employers outside of the family home, such as in hotels, tailor’s shops, and laundries, suggesting that officials were willing to treat extra-domestic servants more like other workers.

The most important advances in legislating domestic service in Chile began only in 1928, when first the House of Deputies, and then a commission on social laws convened by President Carlos Ibáñez, began to address the need for protective legislation for household workers. Congressional work began in earnest when Deputy Ayala delivered a scathing critique of Chilean domestic service, complaining that employers regularly failed to pay their household workers and presenting relevant Swiss and Austrian laws as models for developing Chilean regulations.28 Ayala went on to introduce an elaborate legislative project for the regulation of domestic service in private homes, proposing written contracts, union rights, better housing and treatment, nine hours’ daily rest, severance procedures and pay, and Labor Office oversight. Borrowing some elements from the Civil Code that reaffirmed household workers’ obligation to fulfill contracts, Ayala’s proposal introduced a set of contractual obligations that would have voided nine titles of the Civil Code, including the offensive Article 1995, which established the credibility of employers’ statements over those of their workers in salary payment disputes. Significantly, Ayala’s proposal also voided the exclusion of household workers from Decree-Law 4053 on contracts. Ayala’s project gained support from a number of deputies, including Conservative Deputy Varas, who referenced Chile’s long history of social Catholicism in his support of the proposal.29

While deputies debated and amended Ayala’s project over several weeks in 1928, the proposal stalled when the Ibáñez government began its comprehensive overhaul of social legislation in late 1928. This executive commission on social laws sought to redefine how domestic service could and should be regulated by the state, but would do so outside of the public scrutiny of the press or parliament. Beginning its work in November of 1928, the special commission criticized existing legislation (especially Law 4053) for failing to protect rural and household workers, as well as workers in small industries. “The commission concludes that it is not reasonable or convenient to totally exclude these workers from the law,” going on to argue that, even if some aspects of the labor code could not be applied to these occupations, “that should not stop us from including some articles in the law that will address the different labor conditions of those trades.” Significantly, the commission employed a broad definition of domestic service, which included all those employed in “private homes, hotels, boarding houses, residences, schools, and other similar establishments.”30

Domestic Service: “Special” Work

One of the reasons that domestic service was described as a unique activity was the fact that most household workers labored in private homes. Work in homes implied that it would be impossible to regulate it, or that it could only be regulated through special parameters. First, many observers asserted the inviolability of the home as a private space. However, the privacy of the home had never been absolute: in both Argentina and Chile, industrial homework (also known as the “sweating system”) had been the focus of intense scrutiny from legislators, social reformers, and state officials. Industrial homework was viewed with great ambivalence: on the one hand, this labor guaranteed that women could stay home; on the other, it was understood as a very exploitative system, one that increased the destruction of the family through women’s work.31 The first law regulating homework in Argentina was passed in 1918, and homework would also be included in the labor reform proposals sent by Chilean president Arturo Alessandri in 1921, later approved in 1924.32

Even here, however, domestic service would be excluded from the definition of homework as regulated by law in both countries. What made domestic service different? First, the labor of household workers did not generate any concrete products, something that provoked a certain disdain toward the occupation, even among those who argued early on for their protection. In Argentina, for example, during debates over whether to reduce the working day, Socialist deputy Adolfo Dickman argued that societies in which large numbers of men were employed in domestic service were allowing a “veritable waste of social energy” and urged the state to limit the number of servants per household.33 Likewise, in Chile, social Catholics and labor inspectors criticized homework as an extension of industrial exploitation into workers’ homes and argued for their protection in the 1920s, but were relatively less concerned about exploitation through domestic service. For Chilean observers of the 1920s, the fact that industrial homework occurred in the domestic sphere was moreover an affront to the working-class family itself, one that because of the vulnerable nature of its workers could only be protected by incorporating homework under the protective mantle of the state.34 Notably, domestic service—and its characteristically reproductive and nonindustrial labor—was rarely the subject of the same kind of sustained critique.

From the point of view held by legislators, the kind of relationship that domestic service established between the employer’s family and the household worker made this a very special occupation. All the legislative proposals introduced to regulate domestic service referenced convivencia, which implied specific rights and obligations, such as the right to adequate, clean housing, as well as healthy and abundant food.35 However, convivencia also restricted workers’ rights, such as a longer workday, limited or no vacation days, and employers’ ability to disrupt workers’ rest. Because food and housing were calculated as part of the household workers’ salary, workers’ paychecks were reduced. Convivencia also established close relations that could threaten the morality (and health) of both workers and employers.

Nevertheless, convivencia was not always considered a defining element of domestic service. During the first few decades of the 20th century in Argentina and Chile, domestic service was redefined in such a way that some occupations gained status as independent trades outside of the category of domestic service. For example, if early in the century a café waiter would be considered a household worker because of the type of tasks he performed—even though they were not completed inside the home—by mid-century he would have a different occupational status. The impact of these changes in the legal definition of domestic service on the legal rights recognized for those who worked in domestic service in Chile and Argentina is analyzed in “The Rights of Those Who Serve.”

The Rights of Those Who Serve: The Regulation of Domestic Service (1931–1956)

In Chile as in Argentina, there came a time when political conditions such as the alliance of parties and unions, legislative leadership, and the expert opinions provided by state officials allowed for the passage of labor laws for domestic service. In Chile during the 1930s, and in Argentina by the early 1940s, a few general laws inaugurated a period that, as one legal specialist observed, would “grant real rights to those in domestic service.”36

In Chile, the greatest advance in legislative oversight of domestic service labor came early, in 1931. But the law regulating domestic service came about not through parliamentary debate, but rather (and like the labor laws of 1924) by decree: in May of 1931, operating with extraordinary faculties granted him by the legislature, President Carlos Ibáñez promulgated Decree-Law 178, which would be known thereafter as the 1931 Labor Code. The new law codified existing decree-laws from 1924 with respect to contracts, work hours, and accident protection, but also gave special attention to domestic service in a separate article. The Labor Code proposal originally submitted by President Ibáñez to Congress noted that the articles on domestic service “establish specific rules that correspond to the labor conditions of that trade”37 and urged the labor courts and inspectors to more energetically enforce existing laws. By challenging the exclusion of household workers from labor legislation, Ibáñez became, according to one activist, “the first president who remembered that there are two great trades at the margins of the law (household workers and rural workers), and thanks to his initiative they were included in the Labor Code, a just act that speaks loudly for the people’s great love for our great president.”38

Notwithstanding the novelty of the new law’s article on domestic service, the Labor Code extended greater protections to household workers based on a narrow definition—a worker who had a single employer and carried out labors only in private homes—and established the first (albeit minimal) control of nine hours’ rest per day (Book 1, Article 7). This narrow definition excluded temporary workers, such as those who worked for more than one employer, as well as workers in hotels, schools, and businesses.39 The law granted household workers two weeks’ vacation per year, a two-week probationary period (unique to domestic service contracts), and two weeks’ severance pay (except in cases of abandonment, immorality, or poor behavior on the part of the servant). These articles established, for the first time in Chilean law, the status of all household workers as workers, abrogating the Civil Code’s classification of domestic service as a patronage relation and the 1924 code’s exclusion of domestic servants from obligatory contracts (Decree-Law 4053).

The new Labor Code’s article on domestic service was significant not because it would be enforced—the law contained no regulatory apparatus to enforce the mandates of its domestic service title40—but rather because it specified the terms by which domestic service work could be defined and regulated, just as any other form of salaried employment. Even as employers and workers alike flaunted the new regulations, their existence represented one additional step in state affirmation of domestic workers’ status as a category of worker.

In addition to fundamentally altering the legal framework for state regulation, the 1931 Labor Code also transformed the politics of household workers’ activism, reinvigorating the union and contributing to the diversification of service trades. In 1936, domestic worker activists began organizing a new union, one whose leadership demonstrated significant continuity with the earlier union. Renamed the Professional Union of Household Workers (Sindicato Profesional de Empleados de Casas Particulares), the reinvigorated union called for obligatory unionization and prioritized its contacts with the Labor Office Inspector Escudero, demanding that he enforce applicable laws.41

In Argentina, the creation of legislation specific to domestic workers would only come much later. In contrast to Chilean developments, and in spite of the repeated efforts since 1904 by a variety of political actors—including conservatives, socialists, and radicales—Argentina failed to pass a labor code. The first law regulating labor in an integral way that established a baseline of labor rights for all Argentine workers—but excluding household workers—was the Law of Labor Contracts, which was approved many decades later, in 1974. Prior to that date, labor rights were recognized only gradually, through the passage of specific laws.

In this context, the first law granting rights to household workers was a revision made to the accident protection law in 1940. This law had originally focused on industrial labor, excluding other forms of work from its jurisdiction. The 1940 reform extended accident protection to rural and household workers; there were still limits, however, in domestic service, since only those who did not work exclusively in the personal service of his or her employer were covered by the law. The legislators’ intention was to include under the accident protection law only those workers who at the time were considered domestic servants, but who actually worked outside the home (cleaners, for example, in a commercial establishment).42

A few years later, in 1946 and 1949, the first laws granting labor rights to all household workers were passed in Argentina. In 1945, domestic service was explicitly excluded from Decree 33,302, which established minimum yearly salaries for workers and an annual complementary bonus. However, the following year President Juan Perón asked the National Congress to incorporate household workers in that law, a request granted in December of that year.43 In the same fashion, Resolution 191 issued by the Ministry of Labor and Welfare in 1949 established obligatory weekly rest for household workers, thereby granting them a basic protection that had long been guaranteed other workers.44

These laws came about at the same time that household workers’ organizations shifted in political affiliation. By the 1940s, the most important of these organizations was the Union of Household Workers (Sindicato de Trabajadores de Casas Particulares), which had been most closely associated with socialist movements. After 1946, the union moved ever closer to Peronism, culminating in a clear alliance with that party around 1950.45 As a result, and even as other political groups continued to propose laws to regulate domestic service,46 the labor party, and, soon after, the Peronist movement, led the struggle for household workers’ rights in Congress. These parties proposed the systematic regulation of the occupation, incorporating most of the rights that had already been granted to other workers, such as the reduction in the workday, sick leave, and vacations. The most significant proposals included those introduced by Leandro Reynés in 1946, Silvio Pontieri in 1948, and Delia Parodi in 1955. Parodi’s was in fact the only proposal made since the 1920s that came to be debated in Congress and approved by the Chamber of Deputies.47

Gendered Redefinitions of Domestic Service

These laws were passed just as “domestic service” itself was undergoing a transformation as a legal category. Whereas “domestic service” at the start of the 20th century encompassed a variety of occupations, by the 1940s—just as workers in this sector began to gain legal rights—some workers had already redefined their work as other than domestic. In both Argentina and Chile, between the last decades of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th, “domestic service” included a variety of occupations such as washerwomen, wet-nurses, coachmen, and waiters. This diversity reflected the broad definition of domestic service at the time, which included occupations that were not performed within the home.48 During the first decades of the 20th century, several occupations that were considered “masculine,” and that had long been considered domestic service jobs, became socially and legally independent of that sector, granting those men access to the labor rights denied to those still employed in “domestic service.”

In essence, one of the most important—but least recognized—developments for the practice and regulation of domestic service in Chile and Argentina was the increasing feminization of the occupation in the interwar period, not only because the proportion of women to men working in the sector increased, but also because domestic service was increasingly viewed as “women’s work.” In order to understand these changes, we must consider several demographic and legal developments, including the increasing proportion of industrial wage employment options for men; the legislative success of chauffeurs and other male service workers in getting their jobs reclassified as outside of domestic service; and the increasingly all-female character of domestic workers’ unions—particularly in Chile—by the 1940s. Although scholars and activists regularly characterize domestic service as “women’s work,” the demographic and legal transformations of this occupation in the period from the 1930s through the 1950s tell a different story, one in which legal definitions of domestic workers as citizens with particular, and more limited, labor rights stimulated the separation of men from the legal category of domestic service. What had by all accounts remained a mixed-sex occupation from the late 19th century through the early 20th century was substantively transformed into an all-female occupation by 1950, precisely during the period when, in both countries, domestic workers came under greater state regulation. In this area, however, there is an important contrast between the two cases: the 1931 Labor Code was the first labor law in Chile to include domestic service, passed well before “male jobs” were separated from domestic service, whereas in Argentina, the first laws regulating domestic service emerged just as that sector became more highly feminized.

In the 1940s and 50s, several different trades that had previously been considered domestic service achieved an independent status. A number of unions had lobbied for this separation since the late 1920s, but had little success until the mid-1930s. Significantly, these “separations” contributed to the feminization of domestic service, insofar as they involved male servants seeking to distinguish their trades from the ever more anachronistic (and unregulated) forms of personal service associated with domestic service.

This was the case, for example, during the parliamentary debate in Argentina that led to the eight-hour workday in which the chauffeurs’ union argued, with support from the socialist legislator Adolfo Dickman, that they should be included in the new legislation, which left them out because their trade belonged to the domestic service sector.

When it became clear that domestic service would continue to be excluded, Dickman argued that “in the interests of at least limiting the reach of that exclusion, it was necessary to add a definition of domestic service to the law, so that people and occupations that have nothing to do with domestic service—even though they work in the service of private families—would not be affected.”49 In particular, chauffeurs’ vocational skills and association with modern technological improvements—and the level of responsibility that came with them—were the factors that distinguished these workers from those classified in the general category “domestic service.”50 Although Dickman’s proposal apparently fell on deaf ears, eight years later chauffeurs would be included in the Sunday rest law,51 and in September 1946 chauffeurs were given special statute, granting them specific rights still denied to workers in domestic service.52 Other occupations, such as the managers of rental properties, café waiters, and theater cleaners, as well as maids working in hotels and pensions, also came to be classified outside of domestic service in these decades.

It is worth noting that in Argentina, leaders of the household workers’ associations were also union leaders in the newly independent trades: in the 1920s, for example, the same leaders led the chauffeurs’ and the household workers’ unions; in the 1940s, the same was true of the rental managers’ union. Significantly, most of the leaders of household workers’ unions were male, even when domestic service had already become a supremely female occupation. Although female participation in the union movement was strong, leadership positions continued to be held by men.53 This reveals the gendered nature of authority within workers’ organizations.

The gendered definition of domestic service was also undergoing serious transformation in Chile, where the status of chauffeurs became a flashpoint for debate after the ratification of the Labor Code in 1931. In October 1934, Senator Serani sponsored a bill proposed by President Alessandri that would have excluded chauffeurs from the category of domestic service, categorizing them as workers entitled to the full protections of the Labor Code, rather than relegation to the separate article reserved for household workers: “The functions that this class of salaried workers complete, even if they are done in service to a household, they carry out outside of the home, of a relatively technical and independent character, which makes us consider their work as more similar to that done by a worker in a factory or a workshop than to that carried out by a household worker as such.”54 Debate on the status of chauffeurs extended through early 1937, and included Malaquías Concha’s attempt to extend workers’ rights to bus drivers and conductors. In the end, the legislature approved Law 6242 in September 1938, effectively categorizing chauffeurs as workers, not household workers. The leaders of the new chauffeurs’ union, however, along with those of the hotel workers and waiters’ unions, remained in close contact with the domestic workers’ union for at least the next decade. Despite the legal and political separation achieved by male service workers in this period, male activists fostered the continued alliances with household workers into the 1950s.55

In the history of household workers’ unionization in South America, Chile stands out for its small but constant union presence in Santiago after 1926. The Household Workers Autonomous Union lobbied everyone from the press to legislators and labor inspectors, and was perhaps one of the most important factors in the creation of Article 7 on domestic service in the Labor Code of 1931. In spite of women’s increasing presence in the trade, this activity was carried out under male leaders: cooks, gardeners, valets, and chauffeurs who in the 1930s had already started to redefine themselves not as “domestic” workers but (as we saw with the Argentine chauffeurs) as “workers.” In contrast to the Argentine experience, the withdrawal of males to other trades and unions created space for female participation in the union, and redefined the gendered character of the union itself. Starting with the 1939 election, women began to dominate the presidency and leadership of the union. After a period of union inactivity between October 1945 and January 1951, a reconstituted, all-female union for household workers appeared: The Household Workers’ Professional Union Number 2 (Sindicato Profesional de Empleadas Domésticas No. 2). The renaming of the union in 1951, including the use of empleadas rather than empleados in the union’s title, represents an unequivocal change in the definition of domestic service: the increasing segregation of service employment by sex had utterly transformed the membership and leadership of their union. By the 1950s, la empleada doméstica had become an exclusively female category, deeply grounded in the vulnerability and marginalization long since associated with the construction of domestic labor in Chile.

The Impact of Feminization on Domestic Service

The redefinitions discussed above also redefined “domestic service” in relation to male-centered constructions of “labor,” in a period when specialized occupations within domestic service were disappearing, giving rise to the “all-service household worker.” Feminization of the trade, which had begun at the end of the 19th century and would advance more in the first half of the 20th, became more strongly identified as an “unskilled” occupation, one that generated no profit for employers, and was performed in private homes. This redefinition would have profound, though uneven, effects in both Chile and Argentina.

In Argentina, this redefinition would underpin the strict limits to labor rights established for domestic service, codified in a statute sanctioned in Decree 326 in 1956, under the de facto regime of Pedro Aramburu. The statute created by this decree recognized distinct rights for household workers, limiting their workday to twelve hours for live-in workers and eight hours to live-out ones, and providing them with weekly rest and yearly vacation. The statute also granted the right to an annual complementary bonus, severance pay, and sick leave, and included household workers in the social security system, guaranteeing them pension funds. But the statute also limited those rights. On the one hand, it only included those workers who labored at least four hours daily, and four days a week, for a single employer. On the other, the payment amounts, sick leave, and vacation were less than those granted other workers at the time. Likewise, the workday established for domestic service was much longer.

These limitations did not come about exclusively because of the politics of the Aramburu government. In reality, every proposal—from that of Peronist deputy Delia Parodi to the Aramburu decree—relied on these constructions of domestic service that limited those workers’ rights. The main differences between Parodi’s proposal and the Aramburu statute was that the former included a stipulation for collective bargaining that would determine, among other things, a minimum salary for this sector. Parodi's proposal also protected all household workers who had completed at least 60 days of service. By contrast, the 1956 statute only addressed the resolution of specific labor conflicts between individual employers and household workers, and protected only those employees who worked for more than four hours, four days a week for a single employer.56 Other than these differences, the projects shared two characterizations of domestic service that would shape the limits placed on household workers’ labor rights: tensions arising in the employer-worker relationship and the slippage between definitions of paid and unpaid domestic labor. First, the “familiarity” characteristic of domestic service relations gave rise to situations, specific to domestic service and no other occupations, that went beyond questions of money and rights at the heart of other labor relations. Although the moral value of domestic service was widely recognized, justifying arguments for granting those workers certain rights, the economic value of the work was invisible, making it necessary to limit those rights. In addition, the fact that employers would be inconvenienced by regulation was one of the factors that limited recognition of household workers’ rights, and was linked to the definition of domestic service as an occupation that garnered no profit for employers. The changes of the previous decade, which resulted in the general identification of this sector with household workers who completed a wide range of tasks for a single family, were closely linked with a definition of that work as “non-productive,” as an activity that rather than producing wealth, demanded payments from those who relied upon it, and therefore seemed ever more similar to unpaid domestic labor. Along these lines it is important to note that the term “housewife” was first mentioned in 1955 in congressional debates on domestic service, in the congressional discussion of Parodi’s proposal.57 The figure of the housewife would also play an important role in discussions about Decree-Law 326.58 The feminization of domestic service—if we consider this phenomenon not in terms of the proportion of women employed in the sector, but rather its association with so-called female nature—resulted in the consolidation of limited labor rights for this sector, in a law that would remain in place for more than fifty years.59

In Chile, by contrast, the feminization of domestic service would have a more visible impact on labor politics from the 1960s onward. The combination of rural-urban migration and the increasing feminization of this trade in postwar Chile allowed the Church, through a lay movement known as the Young Catholic Worker (Juventud Obrera Católica, or JOC), to promote the organization of household workers in the 1940s and ’50s. Building on the charismatic leadership of JOC clergy and the vigorous activism of a small group of worker activists, the Church in 1950 established the Household Workers’ Home (Hogar de la Empleada), a religious and social center that provided housing, educational, and legal services to household workers in Santiago. The growth of the home led quickly to the expansion of the Household Workers’ Federation (Federacion de Empleadas, later ANECAP), a forum for workers social, cultural, religious, and political activities that became a focal point of organization in Santiago and the provinces by the 1960s. Both in its early stages of growth as a Catholic association, and as the group became politicized and more activist-oriented in Cold War Chile, the feminization of domestic service gave rise to services and activism predicated on a female, rural, and Catholic subject: when JOC priests and ANECAP activists spoke of “dignity” and “service,” they referenced the gendered qualities of this distinctively female, and utterly Catholic, trade.60

Legal recognition of the labor rights of household workers provided fundamental protections for household workers, male and female alike. However, in Chile as in Argentina these protections were inferior to those granted other working men and women at the time, including those who had until very recently worked in “domestic service” themselves. At the same time, in contrast with the situation faced by many other workers, those employed in domestic service faced greater difficulty in getting those rights respected. The informality that characterized much of their labor was compounded by the narrow definition of who could claim those rights in the first place. Because of this informality, and unable even to show legally that formally employed household workers were engaged in labor relations, it was easy for employers to disregard their obligations to their employees.61 The feminization of domestic service also played a central role in these limitations. Although in recent years the Chilean and Argentine legislatures have reformed the laws that regulate domestic service, substantially expanding both their labor rights and the groups of workers covered by them, the feminization of domestic service continues to play an important role in the construction of domestic service as a lesser occupation.

Developing New Legislation for Domestic Service

The legal norms established in Chile and Argentina by mid-century for the regulation of domestic service remained in place for many decades. Both the article on domestic service contained in the 1931 Chilean Labor Code, and Decree-Law 326 approved in Argentina in 1956 were replaced by new laws only decades later. The significant activism among Chilean household workers, which fostered a variety of political alliances to press lawmakers to expand their labor rights, bore no fruit until the 1990s.62 The labor reform of 1990 granted household workers the right to severance pay, and in 1998, they were granted maternity leave. Finally, in 2007, national holidays were extended to household workers, and in 2008 they were included in the minimum wage law.63 In 2010, household worker activists formed a national association (la Coordinadora Nacional de Organizaciones de Trabajadoras de Casa Particular) to lobby government officials for additional regulations such as written contracts, a forty-five-hour workweek, and age sixty-five retirement, with limited success. Under the Bachelet government, activists fared better, securing Congressional support for the International Labor Organization’s Convention 189 and final ratification in October 2014 (Law 20.786).64

In Argentina, where the postwar household workers’ movement was less active, Decree-Law 326 was replaced only recently thanks to a 2013 executive action. Law 26,844 sought to bring household workers’ rights into alignment with those of all other Argentine workers, including workday, permits, health and accident insurance, family wages, etcetera. This law covers all household workers, erasing the distinctions established in Decree-Law 326. The passage of this 2013 law had been anticipated by a series of measures that allowed household workers to take advantage of existing labor laws. In 2000, for example, the “Special rules of social security for household workers” extended social security and health care provisions to workers employed at least six hours per week for a single employer.65

Nevertheless, domestic service remains one of the occupations in Chile and Argentina with high levels of informality, which makes the effective regulation of labor rights more difficult. In Argentina, moreover, the minimum wage for household workers is still below the national minimum wage, which makes these workers among the lowest-paid in Argentina.

In large part, these low wages are caused by the feminization—both proportional and discursive—of domestic service. As discussed, domestic service has occupied an ambiguous space between the spheres of labor and family, which has led people to understand it as “not-work.” The creation of social rights for workers was built on the fundamental exclusion of certain types of labor, and not just the workers who engaged in it. The state protected labor that was defined according to male-centered criteria: labor that resulted in products that could be sold. Labor activities that did not fall easily within this definition remained at the margins of state regulation.

In spite of the important differences between the history of domestic service in these two countries, and the progress documented here, decades later this situation remains largely the same. Labor rights continue to be defined in male-centered ways, which is not always an effective approach to achieve protection for new groups. Domestic service provides a good example of this limitation: even though the state has sought to expand protections for this sector, household workers’ rights are limited by the state’s inability to enforce these laws in the “private” space of the home, as well as by the continuing conceptualization of labor rights in male-centered ways.

Domestic service and care work—paid or unpaid—remains low in social status. As other studies have shown, it is difficult to evaluate the value produced by domestic service—in terms of gross national product, for example—because it does not generate a product, but also because it is more challenging to measure the hours worked in domestic service, compared to other occupations.66 On the other hand, the social relations that household workers establish with their employers involve emotions that are absent in other trades.67 The history of domestic service in Chile and Argentina demonstrates that, notwithstanding—or perhaps because of—those differences, a variety of actors past and present have pressed for increased regulation, seeking to affirm the value of paid household labor and the state’s obligation to protect its workers.

Discussion of the Literature

In recent decades, scholars have shown a renewed interest in the study of household and care work. This interest has been stimulated, in part, by the increasing demand for this work in North America and Europe, intensified in large part by the increasing migration from regions in the Global South. The growth of this kind of work and increasing proportion of migrants among these workers has given rise to new research on the “global care networks” and the experience of transnational families, along with the working conditions and migrant status of these workers.68

In addition, the mobilization of household workers across the globe has drawn attention to household and care work. The ratification of the International Labor Organization’s Convention 189 in 2011 was a victory for the workers that made their work more visible to both society and researchers. Scholars have analyzed the pathways, as well as the strategies and alliances used by the household workers’ movement to achieve legislative changes that recognize their rights.69 They have also debated the effectiveness of various public policies intended to improve working conditions in this sector.70 Finally, studies have also reconstructed the history of labor regulation in a number of different national and international contexts.71

In Latin America, domestic service was the primary occupation for women throughout the 20th century. However, recent studies still complain that domestic service remains invisible in the social sciences, particularly in history. Women’s work has been a constant concern among historians of Latin America, but scholars have tended to focus on highly feminized industries, such as clothing and food production, as well as on service occupations (teachers, telephone operators, secretaries, etc.). In addition to recovering women’s experience in the workplace, these studies have been centrally concerned with how that work has been restricted to “labors appropriate to their sex,” revealing the impact of alliances between elites and working-class men to exclude women from certain occupations and demonstrating the role of various state agents in the domestication of women.72 The place of household workers in this historiography has been largely opaque, but more recent studies have cast new light on the history of domestic service in the region, even as the number of case studies remains very limited.73

This article establishes similarities and differences in the regulation of domestic service between two national cases, thereby contributing to a regional analysis of this sector. It also focuses on the historical period in which the institutions of the social welfare state emerged in Latin America. In this way, the study adds a historical dimension to recent debates on the expansion of household workers’ labor rights, showing the early mobilization of household workers in the region, as well as the early expression of concern about the conditions of that sector by a variety of political actors and parties.

Primary Sources

Despite the common complaint about the scarcity of good historical sources for the study of domestic service, historians have for some time relied on archival sources to produce detailed histories of this sector, particularly in relation to slaveholding, child circulation, household relations, and the state in Latin America. Sources for the 20th century are even more robust, particularly for those works concerned with the second half of the 20th century, for which oral histories become a key source for reconstructing household workers’ experiences and perspectives. Centered on the middle decades of the 20th century, this study draws on archival and published sources in Chile and Argentina, including the legislative sessions housed in congressional libraries; legal and social work theses held in university libraries; archives and publications of the Ministries of Labor and Social Welfare; and both labor and daily newspapers.

Further Reading

Acha, Omar. “La organización sindical de las trabajadoras domésticas durante el primer peronismo.” Revista de Estudios Marítimos y Sociales 5/6 (2012–2013): 27–39.Find this resource:

Allemandi, Cecilia. “El servicio doméstico en el marco de las transformaciones de la ciudad de Buenos Aires, 1869–1914.” Diálogos 16.2 (2012): 385–415.Find this resource:

Allemandi, Cecilia. “Reflexiones en torno al servicio doméstico, la sociedad y el Estado a partir del trabajo infantil. Ciudad de Buenos Aires, fines del siglo XIX-principios del XX.” Cuadernos del IDES 30 (2015): 11–38.Find this resource:

Blofield, Merike. Care Work and Class: Domestic Workers’ Struggle for Equal Rights in Latin America. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2012.Find this resource:

Blum, Ann. “Cleaning the Revolutionary Household: Domestic Servants and Public Welfare in Mexico City, 1900–1935.” Journal of Women’s History 15.4 (2004): 67–90.Find this resource:

Chaney, E., and M. García Castro, eds. Muchachas No More: Household Workers in Latin America and the Caribbean. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1988.Find this resource:

Cutuli, Romina. “Desigualdades en el acceso a la justicia: un ‘régimen de invisibilidad.’ El servicio doméstico en la provincia de Buenos Aires (1990–2010).” Primer Congreso Latinoamericano de Historia de las Mujeres (Buenos Aires, 2011).Find this resource:

Goldstein, Donna. Laughter Out of Place: Race, Class, Violence, and Sexuality in a Rio Shantytown. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2003.Find this resource:

Hutchison, Elizabeth. “Shifting Solidarities: The Politics of Household Workers in Cold War Chile.” Hispanic American Historical Review 91.1 (2011): 129–62.Find this resource:

Milanich, Nara. “Women, Children, and the Social Organization of Domestic Labor in Chile.” Hispanic American Historical Review 91.1 (2011): 29–62.Find this resource:

Olcott, Jocelyn. “Introduction: Researching and Rethinking the Labours of Love.” Hispanic American Historical Review 91.1 (2011): 1–27.Find this resource:

Pérez, Inés, Presentación del dossier. “Historias del trabajo doméstico (remunerado) en América Latina.” Nuevo Mundo, Mundos Nuevos (2013): 1–8.Find this resource:

Pérez, Inés, and Santiago Canevaro. “Languages of Affection and Rationality: Household Workers’ Strategies before the Tribunal of Domestic Work, Buenos Aires, 1956–2013.” International Labor and Working-Class History 88 (2015): 130–49.Find this resource:

Pite, Rebekah. “Entertaining Inequalities: Doña Petrona, Juanita Bordoy, and Domestic Work in Mid-Twentieth-Century Argentina.” Hispanic American Historical Review 91.1 (2011): 97–128.Find this resource:

Remedi, Fernando. “Esta descompostura general de la servidumbre. Las trabajadoras del servicio doméstico en la modernización argentina. Córdoba, 1869–1906.” Secuencia 84 (2012): 41–69.Find this resource:

Tizziani, Ania. “El Estatuto del Servicio Doméstico y sus antecedentes: debates en torno a la regulación del trabajo doméstico remunerado en la Argentina.” Nuevo mundo, mundos nuevos (2013): 1–16.Find this resource:

Van Nederveen Meerkerk, Elise, Silke Neunsinger, and Dirk Hoerder, eds. Towards a Global History of Domestic Workers and Care Workers. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2015.Find this resource:

Zurita, Carlos. Trabajo, servidumbre y situaciones de género. Algunas acotaciones sobre el servicio doméstico en Santiago del Estero, Argentina. Santiago del Estero, Argentina: Universidad Nacional de Santiago del Estero, 1997.Find this resource:


(1.) Raffaella Sarti, “Domestic Service since 1750,” Gender & History 18.2 (2006): 211–221; and Adelle Blackett, “Introduction: Regulating Decent Work for Domestic Workers,” Canadian Journal of Women and Law 23 (2011): 1–96.

(2.) Asunción Lavrin, Women, Feminism, & Social Change in Argentina, Chile, & Uruguay, 1890–1940 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995), 81.

(3.) Jocelyn Olcott, “Introduction: Researching and Rethinking the Labours of Love,” Hispanic American Historical Review 91.1 (2011): 19.

(4.) Merike Blofield, Care Work and Class: Domestic Workers’ Struggle for Equal Rights in Latin America(University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2012); and Elsa Chaney and Mary García Castro, Muchachas No More: Household Workers in Latin America and the Caribbean (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1988).

(5.) Mirta Lobato, Historia de las Trabajadoras en la Argentina (1869–1960) (Buenos Aires: Edhasa, 2007); Cecilia Allemandi, “El servicio doméstico en el marco de las transformaciones de la ciudad de Buenos Aires, 1869–1914,” Diálogos 16.2 (2012): 385–415; and Carlos Zurita, Trabajo, servidumbre y situaciones de género. Algunas acotaciones sobre el servicio doméstico en Santiago del Estero, Argentina (Santiago del Estero, Argentina: Universidad Nacional de Santiago del Estero, 1997).

(6.) Lucía Pardo, “Una revisión histórica a la participación de la población en la fuerza de trabajo: Tendencias y características de la participación de la mujer,” Estudios de Economía 15.1 (1988): 25–82; and Thelma Gálvez and Rosa Bravo, “Siete décadas de registro del trabajo femenino, 1854–1920,” Estadística y Economía 5 (1992):1–52.

(7.) Joan W. Scott. Gender and the Politics of History (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 42; and Joan W. Scott, “On Language, Gender and Working-Class History,” International Labor and Working-Class History 31 (1987): 1–13.

(8.) Peter DeShazo, Urban Workers and Labor Unions in Chile, 1902–1927 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1983); Juan Suriano, “El largo camino hacia la ciudadanía social,” in Población y bienestar en la Argentina del primero al segundo Centenario. Una Historia Social del siglo XX, ed. Susana Torrado (Buenos Aires: Edhasa, Tomo I); Mirta Lobato y Juan Suriano. La sociedad del trabajo. Las instituciones laborales en la Argentina (Buenos Aires: Edhasa, 2014); and Lavrin, Women, Feminism.

(9.) The changing terminology of domestic service—which began with terms like the now-offensive “servant,” became “domestic employee” at the start of the 20th century, and emerged as the contemporary legal term of “household worker”—is complex and historically significant. For analytical purposes, these historical subjects are referred to in this article as “household workers.” Elizabeth Q. Hutchison, “Shifting Solidarities: The Politics of Household Workers in Cold War Chile,” Hispanic American Historical Review 91.1 (2011): 129–162.

(10.) This Argentine law, however, only applied to Buenos Aires; a national law would not be approved until 1924. Lavrin, Women, Feminism; Lobato, Historia de las Trabajadoras. As for Chile, the 1907 law that prohibited Sunday work for women, and children under sixteen, was followed in 1915 by a law mandating rest periods for commercial workers—most of whom were women—and by the 1917 law that ordered businesses that employed more than fifty women to provide facilities so that women could breastfeed their babies. Elizabeth Q. Hutchison. Labors Appropriate to Their Sex: Gender, Labor, and Politics in Urban Chile, 1900–1930 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001); and Lavrín, Women, Feminism.

(11.) Hutchison, Labors Appropriate; and Paula Aguilar, El hogar como problema y como solución. Una mirada genealógica de la domesticidad a través de las políticas sociales. Argentina, 1890–1940 (Buenos Aires: Ediciones del CCC, 2014).

(12.) Nara Milanich, “Women, Children, and the Social Organization of Domestic Labor in Chile,” Hispanic American Historical Review 91.1 (2011): 29–62; and Cecilia Allemandi, “Reflexiones en torno al servicio doméstico, la sociedad y el Estado a partir del trabajo infantil. Ciudad de Buenos Aires, fines del siglo XIX-principios del XX,” Cuadernos del IDES 30 (2015): 11–38.

(13.) Fernando Remedi, “Esta descompostura general de la servidumbre. Las trabajadoras del servicio doméstico en la modernización argentina. Córdoba, 1869–1906,” Secuencia 84 (2012): 41–69.

(14.) Consider the legislative proposal presented in 1916 by socialist deputies Augusto Bunge, Enrique Dickman, Antonio de Tomaso, Ángel M. Gimenez, and Mario Bravo, which would have revised the accident protection law to eliminate the distinction between dangerous and non-dangerous industries and made accident protection universal (Diario de Sesiones de la Cámara de Diputados de la Nación, June 26, 1916, 549–556). See also the proposal introduced by the radical deputy Carlos J. Rodrígez, which would have included household workers in the Sunday rest law (Diario de Sesiones de la Cámara de Diputados de la Nación, September 29, 1920, 783). Finally, consider deputy Adolfo Dickman’s proposal during debates on reducing the length of the workday in 1928 (Diario de Sesiones de la Cámara de Diputados de la Nación, September 19, 1928, 516–518).

(15.) Francisco J. Zuniga Reyes, “Los sirvientes domesticos,” La Reforma, November 17, 1907.

(16.) “Los empleados domésticos,” La Nación, November 1923; and “La situacion de los empleados domesticos,” El Ilustrado, October 23, 1924.

(17.) Diario de Sesiones de la Cámara de Diputados de la Nación, August 27, 1926, 620–624.

(18.) Catalogo de los eclesiásticos de ambos cleros, casas religiosas, iglesias y capillas de la República de Chile a fines del año 1939 (Santiago: Imp. Y Edit. “Sagrado Corazón de Jesús,” 1940), 138–139, 157–158.

(19.) Elizabeth Q. Hutchison, “Many Zitas: The Young Catholic Worker and Household Workers in Postwar Chile,” Labor: Studies in the Working-Class History of the Americas 6.4 (2009): 67–94.

(20.) Law 11.317, Anales de legislación argentina 1920–1940, Buenos Aires, La Ley, 1953. This law only referred explicitly to domestic service in its second article, that prohibited minor's work—for children under fourteen years old—in this sector.

(21.) Diario de Sesiones de la Cámara de Diputados de la Nación, August 27, 1926, 620–624.

(22.) “Informa consultas sobre sindicatos de empleados de casas particulares,” Report from Labor Office Inspector to Ministro de Bienestar Social, January 12, 1928, Archivo de la Dirección General del Trabajo, Santiago, Chile.

(23.) The Spanish term convivencia means “co-habitation,” but also connotes a social relationship of tranquility and mutual respect. Its deployment in legal arguments against state regulation of employer-servant relations echoes a discourse of kinship and intimacy that obscured the social, and often racial, hierarchies embedded in domestic service labor relations. See Inés Pérez and Santiago Canevaro, “Languages of Affection and Rationality: Household Workers’ Strategies before the Tribunal of Domestic Work, Buenos Aires, 1956–2013,” International Labor and Working-Class History 88 (2015): 130–149.

(24.) Significantly, from 1924 onward calculations of domestic workers’ “salaries” were complex for CSO administrators, since these workers typically received at least part of their wages in regalia (food and housing), costs that were calculated through a fee schedule determined by the Labor Office in accordance with local salaries and expenses. Libretarecibo de la dueña de casa. Cumplimiento y resguardo con los Empleados domésticos de acuerdo con la ley (Santiago: Talleres Gráficos Artuffo, 1941).

(25.) See, for example, José Vizcarra, “Servicio Doméstico,” in Congreso Interamericano de Previsión Social (Valparaíso, 1942); Violeta Páez Boggioni, “Empleada doméstica y maternidad” (social work thesis, University of Chile, 1948); and Hutchison, Labors Appropriate, 2001.

(26.) Archivo de la Dirección General del Trabajo, July 28, 1925, 2

(27.) Archivo de la Dirección General del Trabajo, January 7, 1928.

(28.) Senator Ayala was also a key player in debates over a proposed modification to Decree-Law 4053 to include industrial homeworkers. Hutchison, Labors Appropriate, 223.

(29.) Sesión Ordinaria en 23 de Julio de 1928, Diario de Sesiones de la Cámara de Diputados 1923, Chamber of Deputies, 621–629.

(30.) Jorge Arancibia Muñoz, “El contratode trabajo de los empleados domésticos,” Law Thesis, University of Chile, 1939, p. 49.

(31.) Hutchison, Labors Appropriate; and Aguilar, El hogar.

(32.) Lavrin, Women, Feminism.

(33.) Diario de Sesiones de la Cámara de Diputados de la Nación, September 18, 1928, 514.

(34.) Elena Caffarena, “El Trabajo a Domicilio,” Boletín de la Oficina del Trabajo 22 (1924): 97–107; and Alberto Hurtado, El Trabajo a Domicilio (Santiago: Imprenta “El Globo,” 1923).

(35.) Diario de Sesiones de la Cámara de Diputados de la Nación, September 18, 1928, 452.

(36.) Julio C. Rojas, “El servicio doméstico. Régimen Jurídico” (PhD diss, Universidad de Buenos Aires, 1956).

(37.) Ministerio de Interior. Recopilacion de Decretos con Fuerza de Ley. Año 1931. Dictados en virtud de las facultades otorgadas al Ejecutivo por la Ley numero 4945 de 6 de febrero de 1931. (Santiago: Tallerers Graficos “La Nacion,” March 1933), 233.

(38.) “Un dirigente obrero que reunucia,” El Diario Ilustrado 29.10,470 (January 7, 1931): 20.

(39.) Arancibia Munoz, El contrato, 58. Elsewhere, Arancibia Munoz notes that legislators elsewhere in Latin America are divided on the question of what defines this labor sector: Mexican and Peruvian labor laws resembled Chile’s, whereas Brazil’s 1923 legislation included those employed outside private homes. Arancibia Munoz, El contrato, 59–60.

(40.) Arancibia Muñoz, El contrato, 128–130.

(41.) “Se reorganiza el Sindicato de Empleados de Casas Particulares: Acuerdos tomados en la primera sesion,” La Opinion 5.1,567 (June 9, 1936), 4.

(42.) Law 12,631, Anales de legislación argentina 1920–1940, Buenos Aires, La Ley, 1953.

(43.) Diario de sesiones de la Cámara de Senadores de la Nación, December 19, 1946; and Diario de Sesiones de la Cámara de Diputados de la Nación, December 19, 1946, and January 20, 1947.

(44.) Andrés Julián Fescina, “Régimen jurídico del servicio doméstico y su reglamentación” (PhD diss., Universidad de Buenos Aires, 1956).

(45.) Omar Acha, “La organización sindical de las trabajadoras domésticas durante el primer peronismo,” Revista de Estudios Marítimos y Sociales 5/6(2012–2013): 27–39.

(46.) Diario de Sesiones de la Cámara de Diputados de la Nación, June 27, 1946.

(47.) See, in particular, the legislative proposals introduced by Leandro Reynés, Silvio Pontieri, and Delia Parodi. Diario de sesiones de la Cámara de Diputados de la Nación, October 1, 1946; Diario de Sesiones de la Cámara de Diputados de la Nación, May 12, 1948; and Diario de sesiones de la Cámara de Diputados de la Nación, September 7, 1955.

(48.) Hutchison, Labors Appropriate; and Allemandi, “El servicio.”

(49.) Diario de Sesiones de la Cámara de Diputados, September 19, 1928, 515.

(50.) Diariode sesiones de la Cámara de Diputados de la Nación, September 19, 1928, 514–516. The statute specifically for managers of rental properties was approved in 1947, through law 12,981, on the basis of the same arguments: the managers were not considered to work in “domestic service” because of the economic importance of their labor and activity and the modern character of these businesses. Diario de Sesiones de la Cámara de Diputados de la Nación, March 21, 1947, 1–20; and Diario de Sesiones, Cámara de Senadores de la Nación, April 18, 1947, 822–826.

(51.) Law 12,263, Anales de legislación argentina 1920–1940, Buenos Aires, La Ley, 1953.

(52.) Law 12,867, Diario de Sesiones de la Cámara de Diputados de la Nación, September 27 and 28, 1946, 738–750; and Diario de Sesiones de la Cámara de Senadores de la Nación, September 30, 1946, 746–749.

(53.) Acha, “La organización.”

(54.) “Mensaje de S.E. el Presidente de la Republica,” Chamber of Deputies, Boletín de Sesiones Extraordinarias, 1934, October 23, 1934, 77.

(55.) Santiago, Archivo Nacional de Chile, Siglo XX, Fondo Organizaciones Sociales, “Libros de Actas: Reuniones Generales,” 4 vols., 1926–1964. The author thanks Jorge Rojas of the Programa Economía y Trabajo for depositing a photocopied set of the Actas at the Archivo Siglo XX and for bringing their existence to the author’s attention.

(56.) Ania Tizziani, “El Estatuto del Servicio Doméstico y sus antecedentes: debates en torno a la regulación del trabajo doméstico remunerado en la Argentina,” Nuevo mundo, mundos nuevos (2013): 1–16.

(57.) Tizziani, “El estatuto.”

(58.) Tizziani, “El estatuto.”

(59.) Decree-Law 326/56 was supplanted by Law 26,844 in 2013.

(60.) Hutchison, “Shifting Solidarities.”

(61.) Romina Cutuli, “Desigualdades en el acceso a la justicia: un ‘régimen de invisibilidad’: El servicio doméstico en la provincia de Buenos Aires (1990–2010),” Primer Congreso Latinoamericano de Historia de las Mujeres (Buenos Aires, 2012).

(62.) Hutchison, “Shifting Solidarities.”

(63.) Blofield, Care Work.

(64.) Observatorio Genero y Equidad, accessed October 9, 2014.

(65.) Ania Tizziani, “Organización colectiva de las trabajadoras domésticas en la Ciudad de Buenos Aires: el impulso y sus límites,” Actas de las VII Jornadas de Sociología—Instituto de de Ciencias (2012).

(66.) Teresa Torns, “El trabajo y el cuidado: cuestiones teórico-metodológicas desde la perspectiva de género,” Empiria. Revista de Metodología de Ciencias Sociales 15 (2008): 53–73.

(67.) Donna Goldstein, Laughter Out of Place: Race, Class, Violence, and Sexuality in a Rio Shantytown (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press: 2003).

(68.) Rachel Salazar Parreñas, Servants and Globalization: Women, Migration and Domestic Work. (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001); Helma Lutz, Migration and Domestic Work: A European Perspective on a Global Time (Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate, 2008); Bridgit Anderson, Doing the Dirty Work? The Global Politics of Domestic Labor (London: Zed Books, 2000); and Encarnación Gutiérrez Rodrígue, Migration, Domestic Work and Affect: A Decolonial Approach on Value and the Feminization of Labor (New York: Routledge, 2010).

(69.) Blofield, Care Work.

(70.) Marisa Tomei, “Decent work for domestic workers: Reflections on recent approaches to tackle informality,” Canadian Journal of Women and Law 23.1 (2011): 185–212; and Franck Bailly, François-Xavier Devetter, and François Horn, “Can working and employment conditions in the personal services sector be improved?” Cambridge Journal of Economics 37.2 (2013): 299–321.

(71.) Blackett, “Decent Work.”

(72.) See, for example, Daniel James and James French, The Gendered Worlds of Latin American Women Workers (Durham, NC, and London: Duke University Press, 1997); Karin Rosemblatt, Gendered Compromises: Political Cultures and the State in Chile, 1920–1950 (Chapell Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000); and Hutchison, Labors Appropriate; Lobato, Historia de.

(73.) Ann Blum, “Cleaning the Revolutionary Household: Domestic Servants and Public Welfare in Mexico City, 1900–1935,” Journal of Women’s History 15.4 (2004): 67–90; Hutchison, “Shifting Solidarities”; Rebekah Pite, “Entertaining Inequalities: Doña Petrona, Juanita Bordoy, and Domestic Work in Mid-Twentieth-Century Argentina,” Hispanic American Historical Review 91.1 (2011): 97–128; Nara Milanich, “Women, Children”; and Pérez and Canevaro, “Languages.”