Domestic Workers Hit Hard by COVID-19 Pandemic

The struggle of domestic workers for their rights led to the International Labor Organization’s Convention that recently celebrated its ten-year anniversary, and has led to advances in legislation and working conditions, although the COVID-19 pandemic has hit this sector hard with unemployment. Photo: ILO

By IPS-Noticias

HAVANA TIMES – A decade after the Domestic Workers’ Convention was adopted, the COVID-19 pandemic has aggravated working conditions of many workers in this sector, a new ILO report states, after its publication on Tuesday 15th.

“The crisis has highlighted the urgent need to formalize domestic work to ensure their access to decent work,” Guy Ryder, the International Labor Organization (ILO) Director-General, said.

It’s essential “to start with the extension and implementation of labor and social security laws to all domestic workers,” Ryder said at the organization’s headquarters in this Swiss city.

There are 75.6 million people working as domestic workers in the world (4.5% of the global workforce), and 57.7 million of them, 76.2% of them, are women.

A minority group have established themselves within the formal sector of the economy, but over 60 million domestic workers are working in the informal sector.

Women comprise the majority of this kind of labor in America, Europe and Central Asia, however, this situation in the opposite in the Arab States and in Northern Africa, where 63.4% are men, while 42.6% of domestic workers in Southern Asia are men.

The two regions with the most domestic workers are Asia and the Pacific, with 38.3 million (most of them in China), and in the Americas, with 17.6 million).

Domestic workers account for a third of female employment in the Arab States and 11.3% in Latin America and the Caribbean, while only 1.6% of employed women are domestic workers in Europe and Asia, according to the report.

Ten years ago, the adoption of the ILO’s 189 Convention was praised as “an extremely important step forward for tens of millions of people who work as domestic workers across the globe.”

Ever since then, some progress has been made, as the number of domestic workers who fall completely outside the Law and labor regulations fell by over 16%.

However, many of them (36%) continue without any labor legislation, especially in Asia, the Pacific and the Arab States, where legal gaps are greater, according to the ILO.

This situation has been aggravated by COVID-19, with Latin America and the Caribbean losing somewhere between 25-50% of domestic jobs, and in Peru this figure stands at 70%.

The loss of domestic jobs due to the pandemic in countries such as Canada and South Africa, and in Europe, was between 5-20%.

Compared to these high numbers, the total loss of paid jobs was less than 15% in most countries.

COVID-19 has made domestic workers’ working conditions even more fragile, and has further exposed the preexisting deficits in labor protection and social security.

Even when labor legislation and social security offer some protection, the main cause for exclusion and informal work continues to be a lack of implementation. According to the report, only one out of every five domestic workers (18.8%) have real social security with their job.

The 189 Convention not only stipulates guidelines for upholding dignified and decent working conditions in the domestic sector, it also points out the fact that States need to ensure that these very same workers enjoy the same conditions when it comes to social security as other workers.

The ILO recognized the role of worker and domestic worker organizations, such as the International Domestic Workers Federation that is currently presided by South African activist Myrtle Witbooi, as well as employment organizations, in the progress made this decade.

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