Regulations, Incentives Can Reduce ‘High Levels of Informality’ in Domestic Work – UN

Human Wrongs Watch

6 December 2016 – Nearly 75 per cent of domestic workers 15 and older are estimated to work in informal employment situations, according to a new study by the United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO), which calls for a combination of incentives and compliance to reduce high levels of informality in domestic work.

A domestic worker washes clothes by hand in New Delhi, India. Photo: ILO/B. Patel

The report, Formalizing Domestic Work, confirms that because domestic work takes place in the private sphere, many households do not make use of formal arrangements, whether due to cost concerns, lack of information, or a belief that domestic labour is not real work.

It also assesses the ways in which informal work leads to substandard working conditions and creates a hindrance to development. Informal domestic work creates adverse conditions especially for women.

Worldwide, there are some 67 million domestic workers, 50 million of which are employed informally.

According to Claire Hobden, ILO specialist on domestic work, the employment relationship takes place within the private sphere – the household.

So it can be blurred or disguised by social norms. Households and workers are often not aware of their respective rights and responsibilities, and may perceive formal arrangements as costly and complicated.

“Low levels of voice and representation in the sector also means that households and workers sometimes do not have a means of shaping policy,” she added.

The number of domestic workers is expected to grow, in part due to what Ms. Hobden explains is a “care crisis,” as populations age and more women enter the workforce.

“Formalization policies,” she said, “can help ensure the creation of a sufficient number of decent jobs in the sector, as well as a workforce trained to provide quality services. In the absence of such policies, informality in domestic work will most likely persist.”

The study includes a number of practices and policy approaches from countries around the world that either improve or worsen situations for domestic workers.

Some of the recommended measures include simplifying registration procedures and setting standard contracts; ensuring domestic workers have access to social insurance policies; promoting the professionalization of the field through skills training and salary scales that match certification and experience; and developing compliance campaigns to raise awareness of workers’ rights and responsibilities.

Philippe Marcadent, Chief of the branch of the ILO that produced the report, stressed the importance of promoting formal employment in order to contribute to the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically Goal 8, which seeks to achieve inclusive and sustainable economic growth and full and productive employment and decent work for all.

“No worker should be left behind,” said Marcadent. “Formalizing domestic work is, therefore, a key means of ensuring that this goal will be met.” (SOURCE: UN).

2016 Human Wrongs Watch

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