‘Over 55 million domestic workers’ livelihoods at risk’
Nearly three-quarters of domestic workers around the world – more than 55 million people, are at significant risk of losing their jobs and income due to lockdowns, and lack of effective social security coverage.
Indeed, the vast majority – 37 million of these domestic workers are women. Experts argued that the COVID-19 crisis has exposed the particular vulnerability of informal domestic workers, emphasising the urgent need to ensure they are effectively included in labour and social protection.
An assessment made at the beginning of June by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), revealed that only 10 percent of domestic workers have access to social security, meaning no paid sick leave, guaranteed access to health care, employment injury benefits, or unemployment insurance.
It also revealed that many domestic workers earn as little as 25 per cent of average wages, leaving them without savings in case of a financial emergency.
The assessment showed the most affected region is Southeast Asia and the Pacific, with 76 per cent of domestic workers at risk, followed by America (74 per cent), Africa (72 per cent), and Europe (45 per cent).
While domestic workers in both formal and informal employment have been affected, those in informal employment accounted for 76 per cent of those at risk of losing their jobs or working hours. In countries with strict levels of lockdown, domestic workers, whether formally or informally employed, have been unable to go to work.
But while some of those formally employed still had access to unemployment insurance, for domestic workers in informal employment staying home has meant losing their livelihoods with no safety net to fall back on, making it difficult for them to put food on the table.
Technical Officer, Vulnerable Workers at the ILO, Claire Hobden, said in some regions domestic workers are predominantly migrants who rely on their pay to support their families in their countries of origin. Non-payment of wages and the closure of remittance services has left the families of migrant domestic workers at risk of poverty and hunger.
Live-in domestic workers, according to him, have mostly continued to work, in confinement with their employers. However, reports suggest they have worked longer hours due to school closures and are carrying out more demanding cleaning tasks.
In other cases, he said employers have stopped paying their live-in domestic workers, due to their own financial circumstances or a belief that domestic workers do not need their salaries since they cannot go out.
In some countries, where migrant domestic workers are required to live with their employers, some have been found on the streets after their employers dismissed them for fear of catching the virus. This puts them at risk of trafficking. He said the ILO is working with domestic workers’ organisations and employers’ organisations to ensure the health and livelihoods of domestic workers.
“It is undertaking rapid assessments of the level and nature of the risks facing them, so that governments can devise policies that guarantee at least basic social security coverage, including access to essential health care and basic income security.
“Only 29 countries have ratified the ILO Convention 189, on decent work for domestic workers, which was adopted nine years ago by the International Labour Conference. Many more have taken concrete measures to extend labour and social protection coverage to domestic workers. The ILO has supported roughly 60 countries to close gaps in coverage.
“While these measures have increased number of domestic workers in formal employment, the overall rate of informality remains high. The ILO has called for efforts to formalise domestic work to be urgently accelerated in order to protect domestic workers from future shocks.”
Meanwhile, a Nigerian researcher at Human Rights Watch, Anietie Ewang, has urged Nigeria’s federal government to drastically develop a plan to deliver social and economic assistance to the tens of millions of people who have lost income due to COVID-19, particularly informal workers, who lack an adequate social safety net.
She said their exclusion from social protection violates their right to social security enshrined in international human rights law. The plan, according to her, should be developed in consultation with community-based organisations with experience serving people living in poverty.
The government should also clearly communicate its economic relief plans to the public and clarify eligibility, timelines, and procedures.
“Nigeria’s federal and state governments have acknowledged the devastating impact that COVID-19 will have on the food and livelihood sources of the most vulnerable Nigerians. Now, they need to deploy more resources, creativity, and transparency to ensure the basic necessities of life for everyone,” she said.
President, Human Capital Providers Association of Nigeria (HuCaPAN), Aderemi Adegboyega, told The Guardian that private employment agencies also known as outsourcing agencies employ over three million Nigerians, noting that the volume of fund in the industry has also risen over the years to over N1.4 trillion.
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