ILO’s New Report on Domestic Work Calls for Creating More Social Protection and Secure Employment for Domestic Workers

The report prepared by the International Labour Organization (ILO) Office for Turkey emphasizes that domestic workers, who are mostly women and work in informal employment, need to be included in more social protection and secure employment in the light of ILO’s Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No.189) in order to be able to work in decent conditions.

News | 17 June 2021
The International Labour Organization (ILO) Office for Turkey prepared a report in order to reveal the socio-economic problems and conditions of domestic workers, who are mostly women and work in informal employment, exacerbated by the pandemic and to propose solutions for improving their working conditions.
The report was shared with the public in an online event on 17 June 2021 with the participation of representatives of workers’ and employers’ organizations and of public institutions.

The report Outlook of Domestic Work in Turkey: Scope, Dimensions and Challenges authored by Dr. Ceyhun Güler analyses the existing socio-economic and legal status and problems of domestic workers in the context of occupational safety and health, working conditions, employment methods, trade union rights and organization, supervision and inspection, and proposes policy recommendations for domestic workers to work in decent conditions and solve the existing problems.

Prepared under the “More and Better Jobs for Women Programme” implemented by the ILO Office for Turkey with funding from Sweden, the Report relies on comprehensive review of the literature on the matter, and in-depth interviews conducted with domestic workers and representatives of public institutions, workers’ and employers’ organizations, and also discusses the impact of pandemic on working conditions of domestic workers.

Informality and lack of quantitative data are priority problems affecting one another

Pointing out that informal and insecure employment are the priority problems of domestic workers, who are mostly women, the Report emphasizes that informality is also one of the most significant barriers to establishing the number of domestic workers in a reliable way and therefore the dimension of domestic workers’ problems and developing solutions to such problems.

According to TURKSTAT data, more than 90% of domestic workers in Turkey are women and according to the information provided by the trade unions that are organizing domestic workers, there are more than one million domestic workers in Turkey.

According to the Report, since the informal employment is prevalent, domestic workers usually work in private households, outside the traditional employee-employer relations, and the exact number beyond estimations cannot be established because the quantitative findings are usually based on self-reports; these situations make it difficult to establish the informality rate on one hand and the high informality rate makes it difficult to establish the exact number of domestic workers on the other.

At least 70% of domestic workers are without effective social protection

Based on the data of Turkish Statistical Institute (TURKSTAT) and statistics of Social Security Institution (SSI), the Report notes that at least 70% domestic workers are without effective social protection, this rate exceeds 90% when the estimates of the trade unions that organize domestic workers are taken into consideration.

The Report points out that the regulation issued in 2015 for ensuring domestic workers to work with insurance is an important step and emphasizes that domestic workers need to be included in a more effective social protection system.

More effective and inclusive social protection mechanism needed

According to the report, the most important problems in domestic work are that domestic workers in Turkey are excluded from the basic laws, including the labour law, regulating employment relations and there is no legal regulation laying down job descriptions of domestic workers and scope of their work. This situation creates an uncertainty for domestic works, whose rights and obligations are defined by the Turkish Code of Obligations, and aggravates their workload.

Legal regulations on increasing formal employment are important for better working standards

Indicating that domestic workers have to work under difficult conditions in unsafe environment, with unclear working hours, unclear job descriptions, no right to paid leave, no wage standards and security, and no clear standards on occupational health and safety, the Report points out that making more effective and inclusive legal regulations and encouraging domestic workers for formal employment will help contribute them benefit from labour rights and standards.

Major problems: Occupational Safety and Health issues, violence and harassment

The report emphasizes that most of the occupational safety and health problems faced by domestic workers are preventable and that domestic workers face work accidents or are exposed to various diseases related to their work because the necessary precautions are not taken and adequate level of awareness is not established on this issue.

According to the Report, domestic workers are at the risk of many physical, biological, chemical and psycho-social occupational health and safety risks and most of the work accidents in the field occur in the form of falling, slipping or getting injured. Muscle and skeletal diseases, risk of contagion and respiratory diseases are also among the most common problems that domestic workers face.

In addition, ill-treatment, violence and harassment by the employer are specified as other significant problems in the Report which notes that one of the reasons for this situation is that domestic workers usually work in private households and in isolation.

According to the Report, the most severe problems faced domestic workers include sexual, psychological and physical abuse including violence, food deprivation, psychological pressure, false accusation, intolerance, disparaging and imprisonment.

Domestic workers cannot enjoy trade union rights and freedoms

The report also notes that domestic workers cannot effectively enjoy trade union rights and freedoms because there is no effective mechanism that can ensure such enjoyment.

The Report lists the reasons as the specific nature of domestic work, their workplace being private households, most domestic workers excluded from the legal regulations on the world of work, irregular and non-continuous working, few domestic workers working at a workplace making it difficult to organize.

COVID-19 exacerbated the problems of domestic workers

Another finding highlighted by the Report is that the pandemic exacerbated the problems of most informal domestic workers in this period during which most domestic workers lost their jobs, experienced loss of income due to the lack of work security and had difficulty of access to basic rights such as housing, nutrition and healthcare depending on the income losses.

According to the Report, domestic workers could not enjoy the social protection measures and aids provided during this period. Domestic workers who continued to work during the pandemic had increased workload and working hours, and especially live-in workers had to work without leave for a long time. In addition, the domestic workers who continued to work had an increased risk of being infected with the disease/virus.

During the pandemic, the violence that domestic workers were exposed increased both in working life and in family/household. Domestic workers stated that economic violence increased the most in working life and psychological violence the most in family/household.

Policy recommendations and the demands of domestic workers

Proposing a set of solutions in the light of all these problems, the Report emphasizes that an effective social protection mechanism and formality/insurance system need to be established in order to increase formal employment because most domestic workers are employed informally, and also points out that it is essential to determine the exact number of domestic workers for establishing the dimension of problems and developing solutions.

The Report also calls for making special legal regulations considering specific working conditions and necessities of domestic workers and emphasizes that it is important to implement standard employment contracts that will be prepared in agreement with workers and employers and supported by the government for domestic workers to have standard working conditions and rights, and work in decent conditions. Thus, job descriptions can be clearer.

In the Report that also includes the demands of domestic workers, it is stated that domestic workers, whose rights and obligations are regulated under the Turkish Code of Obligations, have strong demands for being included in the Labour Law so that they can be considered in the same status with other workers, enjoy the same rights as all other workers and informality can be prevented in practice.

For all these regulations, the adoption and implementation of all methods laid down in ILO’s Recommendation on Decent Work for Domestic Works (No.189) and Recommendation (No.201) is emphasized as the primary factor for domestic workers to access decent works.

Outlook of Domestic Work in Turkey: Scope, Dimensions and Issues