Since the Working Women Centre Timor Leste (WWCTL) was established in 2011, Timorese working women have achieved better working conditions, as many were living and working outside of any social protections as informal workers. Most did not have contracts, were paid far below the minimum wage and did not understand their rights as workers. 

WWCTL’s award-winning advocacy and training programs have changed this. Monitoring workplace conditions, WWCTL facilitates job placements and fair work contracts and provides ongoing outreach and support to domestic workers. The high-profile campaigns have ensured that after years of delays, special legislation to protect domestic workers has been re-tabled in Parliament, with the new government committing to promulgate the law as “a top priority” in 2024.  

Creating a space and training for them to share their experiences and build confidence, WWCTL’s members have been inspired by this collective action to form a domestic workers union – to become the first of its kind in Timor-Leste. 

Over the past year, WWCTL significantly expanded this program to seven new rural municipalities across Timor-Leste to reach prospective workers before they gain employment. Running vocational skills workshops for 326 prospective workers in Aileu, Ainaro, Atauro, Ermera, Liquiçá, Manaututu and Oecusse-Ambeno municipalities they have significantly increased their reach and influence, ensuring that participants understand their rights and are supported throughout their entire employment journey. As well as providing practical skills training in cooking, cleaning, childcare and other domestic work skills, the workshops are a great opportunity to spread the word about WWCTL’s hotline, the labour code and workplace rights. These programs are not just contributing to Timor Leste’s development but are improving lives. 


Elsa’s journey 

 Before I only knew that I work at my coffee plantations, but now I understand that working as a domestic worker can greatly help my economy and support my family from poverty. WWCTL facilitates good work conditions and employers, I suggest that the government can provide protection for our rights and enrol us in social security.” – Elsa Ximenes




Elisa Ximenes, known as Elsa, is 27 years old and the oldest child in her family. She is from Ermera municipality, the centre of Timor-Leste’s mountainous coffee-growing country about 90 minutes’ drive from the capital, Dili. Faced with economic challenges in her hometown, Elsa decided to seek employment in the city. Her path led her to the WWCTL, where she found not only work but a supportive community. 

Upon arriving in Dili three years ago, Elsa faced initial difficulties in securing employment. She then encountered domestic workers actively engaged with WWCTL. Intrigued by the positive impact and support they received, Elsa decided to register with WWCTL, leading her to participate in one of their four-day training programs. Subsequently, she secured employment as a live-in domestic worker in Dili, earning a monthly salary of USD$115 (Timor-Leste’s minimum wage). 

Elsa shares half of her salary with her family in Ermera. This financial support enabled her family to undertake home renovations in October, significantly improving their living conditions. Elsa’s commitment to her family’s well-being extends to her current venture—a small stall in her hometown where she sells basic goods to support her younger siblings. As a registered member of the social security system, Elsa contributes 10% of her salary. This reflects her foresight in securing her financial future and underscores the impact of organisations like WWCTL in promoting financial literacy and social security among domestic workers. 


Ines’s journey 

Ines“Although working as a domestic worker for four years, many people say that it is not a good job. But for me, this job really helps me and my family. The money I receive each month can help my parents and younger siblings who live in Ermera with their needs. I also buy myself some things including joining the arisan system with five colleagues. WWCTL has helped me a lot to truly understand myself as a professional worker, although the law is not yet available but together with WWCTL we will push for the law to be realized to protect our rights – to learn, understand our obligations as an employee and to receive work based on our skill capacity.”- Ines Soares 


Ines Soares, 26 years old, is a domestic worker in Dili, as well as in Manleu in Ermera. With WWCTL’s support, Ines began her domestic work employment with an employer in Dili, initially as a live-in worker. The agreed-upon starting salary was USD $170/month, increasing to $250/month after one year. Her employment contract, negotiated and agreed upon by both parties, clearly outlined her work schedule and remuneration, providing transparency and preventing potential disputes.  Economic challenges led to a relocation to Manleu with a reduced salary of $170/month. During this transition, Ines communicated her plans to WWCTL, taking a month-long break to visit her parents in Ermera. Upon her return, WWCTL facilitated Ines’s employment with a second employer in Dili as a live-out domestic worker. The negotiated salary was $115/month for Monday to Friday work. Later, she received a request from her previous employer in Manleu to work on weekends, adding an extra $70/month for additional tasks like washing, ironing, cleaning, and plant care. 

Working tirelessly across two different locations, WWCTL has played a pivotal role in reshaping Ines’s perspective on her profession. Her monthly earnings not only sustain her but also assist her parents and younger siblings. Beyond individual efforts, Ines actively participates in a saving system (known as “arisan”) with five colleagues, fostering a sense of community and financial security. 

Despite the lack of established laws governing domestic work, Ines has found empowerment and support through her association with the WWCTL and remains determined to advocate for protective laws, fair employment conditions, and just compensation.  

Ines’s dedication goes beyond her personal journey; she is actively participating in the recruitment process to establish a new union for domestic workers, aiming to amplify their voices and push for systemic change. Through her partnership with WWCTL, she not only navigates the complexities of her profession but actively contributes to shaping a future where domestic workers are empowered, protected by laws, and recognized for their invaluable contributions to society.  

Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA supports the Women’s Working Centre of Timor Leste (WWCTL)  in partnership with the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP) 

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