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Unending calls for investment in care for economic development

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Investing in the care economy. SOURCE: ILO

There is nothing more comforting for workers than to know that their children and elderly relatives are being properly cared for.

In Europe, care, especially for young children and the elderly, is one of the fastest growing sectors.

Care is estimated to employ some eight million people, representing about five per cent of the overall workforce.

Looking at the vast majority of workers in the care sector, 88.2 per cent are women.

Already, the International Labour Organisation (ILO), has warned that investment in the care economy needs to be doubled to avert a looming global crisis.

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ILO said with the figures, which showed that women are performing more than three-quarter of the time spent in unpaid care work, there is a need for sweeping changes in policies to address the rising need for care, and to tackle the huge disparity between women’s and men’s care responsibilities.

Lead author of the Care Work and Care Job for Decent Work report, ILO, Laura Addati, said global prominence of nuclear families and single-headed households, and the growth of women employment in certain countries increase the demand for care workers.

She noted that if not addressed properly, current deficits in care work and its quality will create a severe and unsustainable global care crisis, and further increase gender inequalities in the world of work.

People working on the frontline of care carry out a vital role, essential for the wellbeing of children and relatives, and to enable parents and adults with elderly relatives to work and earn a living.

Yet care work, carried out in most cases by women, is underpaid and under-valued, and consequently suffers from staff shortages.

Addati explained: “Data from 64 countries representing two thirds of the world’s working age population show that 16.4 billion hours per day are spent in unpaid care work – the equivalent to two billion people working eight hours per day with no remuneration.

“Were such services to be valued on the basis of an hourly minimum wage, they would amount to nine per cent of global GDP or $11 trillion.”

Recently, the world celebrated World Day for Decent Work (WDDW), themed, ‘Investing in care for gender equality’.

Research therefore shows clearly how investing in the care sector can boost employment of women and men, increases Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and is essential to overcoming entrenched discrimination against women at workplace and in society.

Study also reveals that work in the care sector remains significantly undervalued and characterised by poor pay and working conditions.

Women do more than three-quarter of unpaid care work. This is equivalent to 13 per cent of global GDP, or $10 trillion per year.

In six emerging economies, an investment of two per cent of GDP in care would create over 42 million jobs.

Care jobs are often low-paid, physically and emotionally demanding with high workloads carried out with insecure conditions, inadequate training, and poor career prospects, and in some extreme cases in conditions of near slavery.

While care workers are often badly paid, care is expensive for those who have to pay for it out of their own pocket.

On this year’s celebration, held every October 7, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), called on governments to increase investment in care to generate economic growth, tackle growing demographic challenges and help overcome gender discrimination by supporting women’s participation in the economy.

General Secretary, ITUC, Sharan Burrow, said greater investment in care is vital and urgent for every country, whether to ensure dignity and health for ageing populations or the best start in life for children in countries where the young dominate population statistics.

According to Burrow, low investment in care, with the expectation that women must bear the cost of care unpaid, is a huge barrier to increasing women’s workforce participation, to tackling the gender pay gap and to achieve equality between women and men at workplace, and in society.

And with millions of people suffering from illness or accidents caused by their work, she said it is an issue for all working people and their unions.

She said investment is needed to guarantee decent jobs for care workers, with full respect for their rights at work even as they need the protection that organising in unions provides was paramount.

While the theme for this year is to reinforce the call for investment in care, which is fundamental to achieving gender equality at work and in society, Burrow added that it would help improve pay and working conditions in the sector and provide vital economic stimulus at a time when the global economy is sluggish and working families are feeling the pinch.

ILO reports that around 269 million new jobs could be created if investment in education, health and social work were doubled by 2030.

According to care work and care jobs for the future of decent work, 2.1 billion people were in need of care in 2015, including 1.9 billion children under 15, and 200 million older persons.

ILO noted that by 2030 the number is expected to reach 2.3 billion, driven by an additional 200 million older persons and children.

Meanwhile, as Nigeria joined the rest of the global trade union movement to mark the 2019 Decent Work Day, the labour unions reaffirmed their commitment to these ideals, saying the society has continued to face huge decent work deficits and widespread poverty.

The unions equally used the celebration to remind government on the urgent implementation of the new national minimum wage, or risk their October 16 deadline planned industrial action.

The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), which had a peaceful protest from Ikeja down to the Lagos State Government House, carrying placards and chanting solidarity songs, called on government to increase investment in care to generate economic growth, tackle growing demographic challenges, and help overcome gender discrimination by mainstreaming women into the economy.

The Lagos Chairperson of NLC, Funmi Sessi, said to create a decent work environment, financial resource is key.

She called for tax reforms to bring more productive people into the tax net, progressive enough to ensure that the rich pay taxes commensurate to their income, and responsive enough to ensure that taxes are applied to reduce social inequality.

Sessi added that there couldn’t be decent work without decent wages, saying: “The national minimum wage is the floor for decent wages. We call on all tiers of government in Nigeria to commence full implementation of the N30, 000 national minimum wages. Also, negotiations for the consequential salary adjustment must be concluded now so that all workers would have a reason to smile at the end of this October!”

Similarly, while commemorating the day, Association of Senior Staff of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions (ASSBIFI), examined the present fundamental issue threatening the survival of workers in the finance sector.

Speaking on the theme: “Threat to Job security and Work-Life balance in a digitalised work environment – the legal perspective,” ASSBIFI National President, Oyinkan Olasanoye, appealed to employers to always ensure that a healthy balance is achieved to enhance productivity for businesses, stating that stressed and overwhelmed employees get less work done.

She said: “My fellow workers, as employers keep coming up with innovations to the work environments, it has become necessary that we too should brace up by continuously up-skilling and investing in lifelong learning for better competence development.

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“Let us strengthen our position and image as representative of workers and be ready always to rise against indecent labour practices in our workplace.”

At the event, the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC), accused banks of being the greatest culprits against decent work practice.

The President of TUC, Quadri Olaleye, bemoaned setting of unrealistic target for young ladies with all its implication on decency.

He also decried the incidence of casualisation, which he said, is at all-time high, “so much so that half of the bank employees are either casuals or contract staff (still casualisation).

“I believe this is the period to partner with ASSBIFI to minimise this menace. My suggestion, therefore, is that the TUC and ASSBIFI secretariats should meet to strategise with a view to finding a permanent solution,” Olayele said.

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