COVID-hit domestic workers lost far more jobs than others: ILO

Nina Larson - Agence France-Presse
COVID-hit domestic workers lost far more jobs than others: ILO
Migrant workers register for COVID-19 testing in the Central district of Hong Kong on May 1, 2021, after the government ordered all foreign domestic workers to get tested after two domestic workers who entered the city from overseas were found to be infected with a more infectious coronavirus variant.
AFP / Peter Parks

GENEVA, Switzerland — The pandemic has taken a harsh toll on domestic workers who have lost far more jobs than others despite a decade-old international pact guaranteeing their rights, the UN said Tuesday.

In a fresh report, the International Labour Organization warned that working conditions for many of the world's 75.6 million domestic workers had not improved since the adoption in 2011 of a convention entitling them to the same protections as other workers.

And the situation has been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, which hit domestic workers -- the majority of whom are women -- far harder than those in most other professions.

With eight out of 10 domestic workers globally working in the informal sector, many had no labour or social protections to fall back upon when the crisis hit.

"The impact on domestic workers was very much stronger than it was on other parts of the workforce, so that meant that 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," ILO chief Guy Ryder told reporters.

"The crisis has highlighted the urgent need to formalise domestic work to ensure their access to decent work," he said.

At the height of the crisis, job losses among domestic workers ranged from five to 20 percent in most European countries, while the losses were between 25 and 50 percent in the Americas, the report showed.

Job losses among other employees were less than 15 percent in most countries.

'Deeper human impact' 

Since many domestic workers are migrants who rely on their employment for the right to remain in the country they live in, and many are live-in employees, a loss of employment could also mean a loss of their residency permit and lodgings.

"Behind the aggregated numbers, I think there is a deeper human impact which accentuates even more the suffering involved in the labour market impact of the COVID-19 pandemic," Ryder said.

More than three quarters of all domestic workers are women, and the vast majority are employed in two regions: the Asia-Pacific region which is home to about half of the world's domestic workers, and another quarter found in the Americas.

There has been some progress since the adoption of the Domestic Workers Convention, now ratified by 32 countries, with the number of domestic workers who are wholly excluded from the scope of labour laws and regulations cut by 16 percentage points in 10 years.

But the ILO report showed that a full 36 percent of domestic workers remain wholly excluded from such laws, most of them in the Asia-Pacific region and in the Arab states. 

The UN agency cautioned though that even where domestic workers have been included in labour and social protection laws, "implementation remains a significant issue."

The report showed that fewer than one in five domestic workers, just 18.8 percent, enjoy effective employment-related social protection coverage.

"It is more and more important that we redouble our efforts to ensure that the workforce concerned has access to decent work as much as any others," Ryder said.

"It should not be an invisible workforce, it should not be an undervalued workforce, it should not be an unrecognised workforce."

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