By Francesco Maria Chiodi, coordinator of the Social Policies Area at the Italian-Latin American International Organisation (IILA) of the European Union Programme in Latin America, EUROsociAL+.
As in other economic crises, the one we are experiencing in Latin America and the Caribbean as a result of COVID-19 shows the strategic value of human capital to make society more resilient to adverse effects. Also, from the perspective of recovery, it is essential to invest in strengthening human capital, that is, in people’s capacities, skills, knowledge and abilities. Therefore, since women are hardest hit by the economic recession, among other reasons because they are work in the most severely affected sectors (tourism, manufacturing, retail, etc.) and in low-productivity occupations, improving their job skills must be a priority. This will help them back into the job market and improve their work conditions.
There is a subset of particularly vulnerable women. These are female domestic servants. They do household chores and care for dependent people (children, the elderly and people with disabilities), and it is often quite difficult to distinguish the former from the latter. In this region, the sector pays low wages and there is a high proportion of unregulated work, with major job losses in 2020. The interannual variation of salaried workers in households was -32.2% (weighted average, 2nd quarter of 2020) (1). According to data from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the proportion of female employees in the household sector who are registered with or contributing to the social security system is barely 24% (2). So long as this unregulated work existing, these women will not have access to the social safety net. They do not have access to the benefits of formal employment (wage regulation, unemployment benefits, vocational training, etc.).
However, there is no easy solution to the problem (3). One aspect that can have positive repercussions is improving employability levels for the workers in private homes, opening the way for them to access the market for care services for dependent people, where formal and better paid employment is more widely available. To this end, what is proposed here is a large-scale measure to certify skills and train women who are usually employed as domestic workers. Several countries in the region have job skills assessment and certification systems with two main components. Firstly, a process aimed at identifying and standardising skills in demand in the labour market in terms of knowledge, abilities, skills, and attitudes associated with certain job functions. It is also a systematised process to evaluate a person’s job performance according to these same skills and awarding them an official certificate that they have proven their competence in the abilities evaluated.
This certification, particularly when coordinated with training, may have five basic advantages:
1) It would be a first step to improving the status and visibility of these women’s role in society. Although they have an important role in society, they are at the bottom of the career ladder because their work has no formal recognition or a professional qualification. Changing this would boost their self-esteem and lead to a greater appreciation of the women employed in these areas. In addition, when certification is linked to training, women learn more about their rights and duties at work, safety issues at work, health, contractual aspects, etc.
2) In principle, certification of work skills becomes a useful tool for negotiating salaries and working conditions, especially in the presence of other concomitant factors (for example, greater transparency regarding supply and demand). It could also allow unpaid family caregivers to professionalise their trade and earn money by doing care work outside their own homes by certifying their skills.
3) As mentioned above, certification assumes that common quality standards have been set, thereby ensuring that certified persons who do these jobs are duly trained and meet the required standards. The result of the competency evaluation process allows candidates for certification to identify any shortfalls with respect to those standards and, therefore, areas to improve through training.
4) Likewise, certification can make a significant contribution to social and professional mobility, revealing opportunities for development. So, for example, a domestic worker with experience in caring for the elderly, through adequate training, could acquire the necessary skills for certification in trades such as “caregiver to the elderly”, which requires training and more specific knowledge of health, safety, psychosocial support, etc.
5) Finally, societies require more and more carers (4), especially due to the increase in life expectancy. The sector represents an expanding occupational field and is a driving force for post-COVID-19 economic reactivation. However, there is less private demand for these services during serious economic recessions and in a context of forced social distancing. Hence the importance of public investment to extend the network of care services: as well as responding to a social need, new sources of employment for women would be created.
In short, certification in skills and training for female domestic workers and carers could become a key link in a policy that simultaneously promotes the economic autonomy of women and the development of their human capital. Of course, this hypothesis should also be tested in the field.
(1) ILO-ECLAC (2020), “Labour dynamics in a crisis of unprecedented characteristics: policy challenges”, Labour Situation in Latin America and the Caribbean, No 23, United Nations.
(2) ECLAC (2020), “The economic autonomy of women in sustainable and equal recovery”, Special Report COVID-19, No. 5, Santiago.
(3) According to the ILO (Salazar-Xirinachs, JM & Chacaltana, J. (2018) Formalisation Policies in Latin America: Advances and Challenges, ILO), the total informal employment rate (agricultural and non-agricultural) in Latin America and the Caribbean is 53%, about 140 million people. The formalisation process observed in the first decade of the 21st century was associated in the first instance with the relatively high rates of economic growth in the period 2002-2013, which were complemented by deliberate policies, which had increasing intensity over time, although with differences between countries. With the change in the cycle towards a slowdown in growth, as of 2015 informality grew again.
(4) Cf. De Henau, J., S. Himmelweit and D. Perrons (2017), Investing in the Care Economy: Simulating Employment Effects by Gender in Countries in Emerging Economies, Brussels, International Trade Union Confederation.
Article published in the EULAC Foundation Newsletter