Argentina, Chile, Uruguay · 5 August, 2020

Covid-19 and work in private homes: How do we deal with coming out of lockdown?

The event on measures to protect income and guarantee health and safety while carrying out domestic work was organised by the European Union Programme EUROsociAL+, through the IILA Social Policies area, the International Labor Organization (ILO), Argentina's Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security and the Occupational Risk Superintendency and the EULAC Foundation

The webinar is part of a series of online exchange meetings that began in June 2020. On this occasion, discussion focused on work in private homes, taking in the entire spectrum of domestic tasks and tasks carried out inside homes, including caregiving. Representatives of governments, workers, employers and experts from South American and European countries, shared and reflected on the ongoing measures, challenges and lessons to be taken into account within the context of the Covid-19 crisis. The aim is to preserve jobs and income and the health and safety conditions for this group of workers, mostly women, in one of the sectors which has hardest hit by the consequences of the pandemic due to the high level of informal work.

The opening session of this virtual seminar was moderated by Maribel Batista from the Southern Cone ILO Office who is the main specialist in activities with workers. It was attended by Fabio Bertranou, director of the Southern Cone ILO Office for Latin America, who highlighted the importance of the seminar, as it examined the problems that affect one of the employment segments most affected by the pandemic. Despite the important role that domestic work plays every day in thousands of homes, the pandemic has further highlighted the fact that the protection of workers in this sector, most of whom are women, is lacking, in particular, in relation to the conditions of minimum safety and health that they have to deal with on a daily basis”.

Adrián Bonilla, director of the EU-LAC Foundation, said that most work in private homes and care duties are carried out by women, underlining the fact that a great deal of progress has still to be made in terms of social equity. “This event is very important and this issue should be taken up on an ongoing basis to seek alternative scenarios to ensure that these realities characterised by precariousness can be improved.Laure Rogés, DEVCO representative of the European Union, stressed that they have faced, and still continue to face, this crisis in Europe,while re-directing the focus of international action to support partner countries in Latin America.“Aware that the Covid19 crisis accentuates inequalities and threatens social cohesion, the European Commissioner for International Associations, Jutta Urpilainen, yesterday said that the fight against inequalities and policies for social cohesion will remain at the centre of cooperation between Europe and Latin America”.

Daniel Pérez, Uruguay’s National Director of Employment, mentioned some of the measures that his country’s government has taken to support workers in the sector, although he acknowledged that, despite this, the pandemic “has made it clear that there are significant weaknesses, especially in the informal sector, with which we have to continue working”, adding that “we need to be extra-resourceful to ensure that when we come out of the pandemic, we offer help to get people back to work, above all.

The discussion also featured Carmen Britez, secretary of Argentina’s Domestic Workers Union (UPACP) and vice-chairwoman of the International Federation of Domestic Workers (FITH), who highlighted the importance of listening to people who work in private homes. She highlighted the importance that a law be introduced for this group and reported on the protocol presented at national and provincial level regarding a safe return to work. This protocol features an app for workers and employers, which includes a self-assessment element that focuses on the risks of contagion and the prevention thereof and a link to call 144 in case of gender violence.

Carmen Britez also stressed that the domestic care work sector has a very high rate of informal employment and that Emergency Family Income (IFE), an Argentine Government initiative to help the most vulnerable people, included most of this sector’s workers, both informal and formal, as well as highlighting the importance of the advice given by the union on all these issues.

Camila Jordán, Chile’s Director of Employment spoke about her country’s legislation in relation to work in private homes, emphasising that employers have to guarantee the health and safety of workers and ensuring decent conditions of employment. She also mentioned some of the measures adopted by the Chilean government for this group of workers due to the pandemic, praising the work that they do as making a great contribution to society.

María Gema Quintero Lima, vice dean of the Labour Relations and Employment department at Madrid’s Carlos III University, provided information on the strategies planned in several countries of the European Union and the United Kingdom. Above all, she stressed that in those places where there was dialogue, especially three-way discussions, solutions have been more comprehensive and effective.

Lucía Gándara from Uruguay’s Union of Domestic Workers spoke about the difficulties experienced by workers and the aspects that need to be taken into account to alleviate the situation in the face of the pandemic. She stressed the economic solidarity among these workers with regard to the vulnerability of the situation, as the measures provided by the government are insufficient. She also discussed the protocols to be followed when entering homes and the sacrifices made by many workers who have to work for financial reasons.

In this regard, María Cotal from Chile’s National Federation of Domestic Workers said that a large number of workers have been fired or sent home as a result of Covid-19. She pointed out that the measures adopted by the Chilean government do not cover this group of workers which is why they are requesting access to emergency basic income. She ended by saying that “dignity kneels in the face of need” referring to those mothers who are heads of families who risk being infected because they have to feed their children.

María del Mar Ortolano, coordinator of Argentina’s Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security Domestic Workers Industrial Tribunal underlined the fact that the level of employment in this area is very high and the majority are women, 44% of whom are heads of households. In Argentina, this group of workers was covered by the IFE Emergency Household Income plan, with their dismissal prohibited by law, two measures that were adopted by the current government. She then highlighted the importance of these spaces for dialogue to ensure the safe return of these workers, as “it is important to take care of those who take care of us”, by protecting their income and through the protocols put in place by the government.

The closing ceremony was presided over by Francesco María Chiodi, the European Union Programme EUROsociAL+ coordinator of Social Policies, who described domestic work as a highly sensitive issue due to the sector’s vulnerability as a result of the high prevalence of informality shown therein which has been exacerbated by the pandemic. He also mentioned three main ways to tackle the difficult conditions of domestic workers: “Health protection, support for employment and income and formalisation – a three-pronged comprehensive policy aimed at ensuring profound change”.

Country: Argentina, Chile, Uruguay
SDG: Gender equality, Reduced inequalities
Policy area: Social policies