Time for Rights for Paid Domestic Workers in Europe

Written by Author on . Posted in Current opinions, Opinions

Sabrina Marchetti is Research Associate at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies Global Governance Program in the Cultural Pluralism research area. From 2016 she will direct the ERC funded project ‘DomEQUAL’.marchetti-2

With the approach of International Women’s Day, the world prepares to celebrate women’s achievements, stories and courage in all social fields. More than anything, attention should be given to the difficulties faced by women from underprivileged backgrounds, as the women labourers’ whose deaths are sadly the event that marks the date of 8 March.

It is in this perspective that I find of the utmost importance to draw attention to the ongoing international campaign for the improvement of labour rights for women (and men) employed as domestic workers. Women’s rights are particularly relevant to them not only because this is indeed a particularly feminised labour sector (more than 80% are women globally), but also because the activities that they carry out are so strongly linked to the role traditionally assigned to women in caring for their families and homes.

Despite their fundamental role in society, domestic workers suffer from very precarious labour conditions, low pay, exposure to physically onerous tasks, long working hours, and lack of social protection. The situation is worsened for migrants, who are typically paid less and left with the most arduous jobs. More than anything, migrant domestic workers are penalised by migration policies which, in different ways from country to country, restrict their access to regular employment, thus pushing them into the precarious condition of undocumented or temporary migrants. This combination of discriminatory labour and migration regimes, which adds to a general worsening in the social status of such feminised and racialised jobs, gives shape to a very vulnerable and inequitable position for migrant domestic workers in their host countries.

This is the case, for example, in the EU countries which do allow residence permits for labour migrants that want to work in this sector, such as the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Finland, and so forth. In other countries, the United Kingdom for instance, migrants in domestic work are legally bound to their employers and are not allowed to change employment, even in case of abusive situations.

In recent years, under the motto “domestic work is work!”, activists and scholars have fought against the inequalities in this field and have finally achieved some important results for the recognition of rights and social status to domestic workers. The accomplishment that probably speaks out most is the proclamation of the ILO Convention n. 189 (and Recommendations n. 201) on “domestic work as decent work” in 2011. The Convention has been ratified so far by 22 countries around the world which are therefore committed to equality between domestic workers and all other workers.

The situation however remains appalling, also in Europe where, as explained above, migration and labour policies often converge in creating vulnerable conditions for this category. An important positive sign has been the recent launch of a report on domestic workers’ rights currently discussed at the European Parliament, in the Committee for Women’s Rights and Gender Equality. As Kostadinka Kuneva, the Greek MEP rapporteur on this issue, says “If we regulate this profession, we will be able to reduce trafficking and the abuse of women”. In facts, labour rights, especially in the care of migrants’ work, are critical to defend women against violence and abuse in general.

Let us then conclude on these words, as a wishful proposition for the 2016 International Day of Women and the improvement of all women’s lives.