Formalising Paid Domestic Work (I): New Regulations and Policies to Enforce Workers’ Rights
The formalisation of paid domestic work has gained significant momentum after the adoption of ILO Convention 189 in 2011. Since then, 35 countries have ratified it and, many of them, have undertaken major regulatory reforms or introduced some amendments to the legal framework. These changes in legislation were partly followed by innovative enforcement mechanisms. Formalisation has thus become one of the main objectives of policymakers, since formal jobs give domestic workers access to the minimum wage, health insurance, pensions, and other social security benefits that informal workers are excluded from. In addition, informal domestic workers tend to work more extreme hours and earn lower wages.
Despite the proliferation of formalisation policies in most of the countries around the globe, informality remains the norm in the sector. On average, 81.2% of domestic workers worldwide work without a legal contract. Thus, when the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, domestic workers around the world were in a very precarious situation. In some countries, because they were considered “essential workers,” they were allowed to work. In others, because they could not access their workplace, they were dismissed or experienced reduction of working hours and income losses. In the case of live-in domestic workers, the lockdowns forced many to remain indefinitely in their employer's house, suffering various types of abusive treatment. The COVID-19 pandemic thus clearly demonstrated the limitations of legal frameworks and the effectiveness of their application in the domestic work sector.
The question thus remains to what extent formalisation policies are effective and pave the way for a ‘normalisation’ of paid domestic work - normalisation understood as the closing of protective gaps (Rubery et al. 2018) that so far distinguish many jobs in private households from standard forms of employment. Which are the challenges faced by policymakers and domestic workers organisations to increase the levels and quality of formalised jobs? What new approaches do various actors develop in face of these challenges?
The special session is composed of 2 slots. This first slot deals with policy responses and the institutional framework. How have national systems of social protection and labour market regulation been adjusted in response to the Corona-Pandemic and more longstanding efforts to regulate the sector? What sort of protective gaps remain? And how are they addressed; what new approaches emerge at the national, international and transnational level with a view to both formalise and normalise work in the sector?
Presentations of the Special Session
The State Management of Indenture
Convention 189 established labor standards for domestic workers. Yet, it did not address their legal vulnerability to indenture. Across the globe, countries that rely on migrant domestic workers legally bind them to one employer as a live-in worker with little flexibility to change employers. This legal status according to the ILO renders them vulnerable to human trafficking. How do sending and receiving states attend to this vulnerability? My talk provides a global overview of this legal vulnerability, describes how it heightens the risk of forced labor and human trafficking, and addresses efforts by countries to reduce this risk with a focus on the sending state of the Philippines and receiving countries of Canada, Singapore, and United Arab Emirates.
Formality and Informality in the German Discourse on “Legal Certainty” for Live-in Work
German policy debates on domestic work are centred around the phenomenon of “live-in” work, i.e. the work of female short-term migrants from Middle and Eastern European countries who live in German households in order to take care of elderly or disabled persons in need of assistance. The great majority are contracted by agencies, most of them with contracts that position them as self-employed, some with employment contracts (which however also show signs of informality).
While these workers and their care work have long been an open secret in social policy, they have recently stepped out of the shadow. The coalition agreement for the 2021-2025 federal government even mentions them explicitly, with the intention to create “legal certainty for 24-h-care”. Legal certainty” might further normalisation of live-in-care—but will it promote formalisation or even close protective gaps for workers? This is what the contribution will discuss.
The Policy-Implementation Gap in Domestic Worker Protections Around the World
Domestic workers are some of the most vulnerable and least protected workers in the world even as they provide some of the most essential care work that props up the rest of the economy of a country. The ILO has pushed countries to introduce laws to protect domestic workers, and also to include domestic workers within their existing labor legislations. However, even when countries do introduce protective laws, there is often a significant gap in implementing and/or enforcing these laws, especially when it comes to informal domestic workers. This paper qualitatively assesses the policy-implementation gap in domestic worker protections by leveraging original data compiled via the Global Care Policy Index (GCPI) project on a diverse set of 30+ countries’ care policies. I highlight best practices from select countries that have worked to reduce this protective gap and thereby offer suggestions to other countries seeking to increase the effectiveness of their protections for formal and informal domestic workers.
Implementing C-189, Addressing Covid-19 and ‘Patformisation:’ Contemporary Challenges and Advances in Formalising Domestic Work
This paper addresses contemporary challenges and advances in the formalisation of domestic work using case studies of Argentina, Chile, Spain and the UK. It examines the impact of Convention-189 ratification and formalisation initiatives in Argentina and Chile, the recent agreement to ratify following other reforms in Spain, and the UK’s non-ratification and exclusion of domestic workers from certain key labour rights. Against this background, it analyses the ramifications of the Covid-19 pandemic, including workers’ exposure to the virus, lack of sick pay / protective equipment, increased hours and confinement in employers’ homes. Finally, it explores the increasing provision of domestic work through online platforms on a ‘gig economy’ model with reference to first-hand empirical research by the author in the UK, as well as existing studies (e.g., Pereyra and others, 2022). While this form of work increases visibility and formalisation, it also risks undermining labour rights protections and exacerbating inequalities.