ILO calls for ratification of Domestic Workers Convention to protect the rights of domestic workers, one of the hardest-hit groups by COVID-19 crisis

Noting that a study on domestic workers revealed their biggest problem was informal work, the webinar highlighted that COVID-19 crisis exacerbated the existing problems of domestic workers.

News | 01 July 2020
The webinar held on 30 June 2020 by the International Labour Organization (ILO) Office for Turkey under the “More and Better Jobs for Women” programme implemented with funding from Sweden to increase the number of women working in decent conditions in Turkey revealed that COVID-19 crisis exacerbated the existing problems of domestic workers including particularly informal work, and emphasised once more the importance of ratification of ILO Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189) to deal with such problems.

Various parties took up various dimensions of the issue the webinar, sharing the preliminary findings of a study on domestic workers under the “More and Better Jobs for Women” programme, and discussing proposals for solutions.

Mr. Numan Özcan, Director of the ILO Office for Turkey, noted that domestic workers constituted one of the groups who were socially and economically hardest hit by the pandemic, and at highest risk of losing jobs and income in the crisis.

“COVID-19 crisis may be an opportunity to ratify ILO C.189”

“COVID-19 pandemic highlighted once more how important social protection was for domestic workers who mostly worked informally with unclear job descriptions” said Özcan, and continued: “According to the standards developed by ILO and Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189), domestic works are workers too, and should be able to enjoy all the rights accorded to all workers. Therefore, domestic workers should have all the rights necessary for decent work and specific legislation should be enacted for the nature of their work.”

Referring to the adverse impact of COVID-19 crisis on domestic workers, Özcan stated that the pandemic had particular negative impact on domestic workers who provided for the livelihoods of themselves and families by their daily earnings.

“The loss of income on the part of some employers and concerns of others that virus could be transmitted by domestic workers during the pandemic resulted in domestic workers losing their jobs, having reduced working hours, consequently losing income.”

“All what happened in the crisis clearly showed us that it was all the more important today to ratify ILO C.189 which laid down significant provisions for domestic workers to enjoy such fundamental labour rights as access to social protection mechanisms, minimum wage, employment contract, working hours, breaks, weekly and annual leaves.” “It is very well possible to turn COVID-19 crisis into an opportunity to establish decent working conditions for domestic workers.”

“Our goal as the Ministry is to ensure decent working conditions for domestic workers”

Ms. Nurcan Önder, General Director of Labour of the Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Services, expressed that their goal as the Ministry was to ensure decent working conditions for those who worked households as domestic workers.

“In that sense, ILO’s Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189) is of critical importance. Our top priority is to formalise domestic workers and their employment” said Önder, and referred to the progress of legislative work on the matter, pointing out that further infrastructural work could be undertaken on matters addressed by the Convention.

“Problems of domestic workers are also associated with gender roles imposed on women”

Ms. Ebru Özberk Anlı, Senior Programme Officer at the ILO Office for Turkey, who moderated the discussions at the webinar, emphasised that although significant progress was made in improving the working conditions and enjoyment of labour rights for domestic workers, problems persisted for many of them and COVID-19 crisis diversified and exacerbated such problems.

Özberk also noted that the problems expressed by domestic workers were generally associated with the gender roles imposed on women, and consequently with the problems encountered in employment.

“The biggest problem is informal work”

Dr. Ceyhun Güler from Karamanoğlu Mehmetbey University shared the preliminary findings of the study on domestic workers including the impact of COVID-19 pandemic undertaken under the Programme with multilateral support from such unions as IMECE, HIZMET-IS and EVIDSEN as well as domestic workers.

Güler said: “Our study reveals that the biggest problem for domestic workers is informal work. It is highly widespread among domestic workers. Seventy percent of domestic workers work informally and have no long-term insurance coverage in Turkey.”

Findings reveal that the lack of quantitative data on the size of domestic workers and dimensions of problems, and the inadequacy of registration and inspection systems result in domestic workers not having job security or social security, being deprived of fundamental rights and feeling concerns for the future.

“COVID-19 pandemic caused loss of jobs and income for domestic workers”

Noting that COVID-19 crisis had adverse impact on domestic workers and deepened the existing ones, Güler stated that many domestic workers lost their jobs and income at the onset of the pandemic, highlighting that they represented a population whose sole income was derived from domestic work as informal day-labourers. Güler further informed that they could not receive short-time working allowance, unemployment benefits, unpaid leave benefits and healthcare services, all of which were associated with informal work.

“Domestic workers who keep their jobs are overburdened with extra work and hours.”

Güler noted that domestic workers who kept their jobs in the crisis, on the other hand, faced problems of overburdening with extra work and hours, and were denied paid leave, under the risk of transmitting the virus to those around, and exposed to abuse due to the risk of transmitting the virus to the household where they worked.

“ILO Convention crucial for information and guidance on rights”

In the light of findings from the study, Güler drew attention to the importance of ILO Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189), and offered recommendations on necessary action in the context of Convention in general, and COVID-19 in particular. Güler stressed that it was essential to inform and guide domestic workers through various materials as brochures and videos, provide protective equipment particularly against COVID-19, identify current problems and develop inspection mechanisms, and provide information on the rights.

Güler also emphasised the need for finding means to provide domestic workers with income support and access to healthcare services, and incentives for employers who employed domestic workers.

“As a final note, I would like to underline the importance of creating an effective registration system to prevent informality, collect quantitative data on the size of domestic workers and dimensions of problems, institutionalise social dialogue mechanisms to solve problems, and providing access to employment with social protection.”