ILO concerned about large number of domestic workers laid off

GENEVA, Switzerland (CMC) – The International Labour Organization (ILO) said yesterday that domestic workers in Latin America and the Caribbean have been severely affected, 10 years after the landmark adoption of the ILO Convention that confirmed their rights.

ILO Director General Guy Ryder insisted that despite “real progress” in labour laws and social security provisions in some countries, these “essential service providers” had rarely been so vulnerable since the onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic last year.

“These workers lost their jobs in greater numbers or saw their hours of work reduced to a greater extent than other parts of the workforce,” he said.

Ryder said ILO data showed that the number of domestic workers in the second quarter of 2020 had fallen by 25 to 50 per cent in most Latin American and Caribbean countries, compared with pre-novel coronavirus pandemic levels.

Most European countries, as well as Canada and South Africa saw job shedding among domestic workers ranging from five to 20 per cent.

Ryder said, overall, these losses resulted in a 50 per cent decrease in total working hours for the sector, in 13 of the 20 countries under review before highlighting the disproportionate impact of the crisis on domestic workers.

Countries need to take action, because eight in 10 domestic workers are informally employed and therefore lack legal and welfare protection, the ILO chief said.

“Their status inside the country can be called into question if they lose their jobs, [and] many domestic workers live in with their employers, so they could lose their lodgings if they lose their jobs as well. So, behind the aggregated numbers there is a sort of deeper human impact which accentuates even more the suffering involved in the latent economic impact of the COVID pandemic.”

According to ILO, there are at least 75.6 million domestic workers aged 15 and over, amounting to around one in 25 people employed worldwide. Just over three-quarters are women.

By gender, the highest number of female domestic workers are in Latin America and the Caribbean (91 per cent and 89 per cent, respectively).

And, while women make up the majority of the workforce in Europe, Central Asia, and the Americas, by contrast, male domestic workers outnumber their female counterparts in Arab states (63 per cent) and North Africa. In Southern Asia, the split is relatively even.

The ILO said that since the adoption of the landmark 2011 Domestic Workers Convention (No 189), 32 of the 187 member states have ratified the convention, with Ryder welcoming the fact that 16 per cent more workers were now covered by labour law protection.

Nonetheless, 36 per cent of the sector remains “wholly excluded” from such legislation, ILO said, noting that in Asia and the Pacific and the Arab states, “the gaps are largest”.

The UN agency also cautioned that even where domestic workers were covered by labour and social protection laws, a lack of implementation was notable. According to the ILO's latest report on the issue, just under one in five workers in the sector enjoys effective, employment-related, social protection coverage.

Ryder said it is important that more countries boost domestic workers' rights, as they are a key part of the wider economy.

“Domestic workers are an essential part of the economic infrastructure that allows households to meet their needs,” he said. “Domestic workers also help their workers, and particularly women, stay in the labour market. And this benefits us all regardless of our area of work or where we live.

“And as we work towards policies that can create sustainable and equitable recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, we do need to ensure that domestic workers are not left behind, quite the reverse; they need to be brought forward, in terms of their working conditions, to the levels enjoyed by other parts of the workforce.”

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