UN urges protection of domestic workers’ rights during COVID-19 pandemic

Oscar-nominated actress Yalitza Aparicio rose to fame in the film Roma, where she starred as an indigenous domestic worker.  There are an estimated 67 million domestic workers worldwide, the vast majority of whom are women.  As they try to maintain their livelihoods, lack of access to social protection systems makes domestic workers especially vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Domestic workers who clean our home and take care of our family are at high risk of getting it,” said Ms. Aparicio, highlighting the current workplace crisis caused by the spread of COVID-19.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, 70 per cent of these workers have been affected by measures to contain the pandemic.  In a video message by the International Labor Organization (ILO), Ms. Aparicio defended the rights of indigenous peoples and domestic workers, and underscored their vulnerability to COVID-19.

Most of these people “work informally and receive unfair wages,” said the actress, who is also a Goodwill Ambassador of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

For domestic workers, there are only two options, she explains:  stop receiving income or risk exposure to COVID-19.

Domestic workers also have the right to stay at home

Given this precarious situation, along with the lack of access to social protection systems and emergency health provisions, Ms. Aparicio is advocating for measures that allow these workers to stay at home and in good health “without becoming further impoverished”.

“Let’s ensure they are covered by labor law and emergency measures because by doing so, we are forging a better world,” she asserted.

According to ILO, COVID-19 threatens the livelihoods of more than 55 million people engaged in domestic work, including 37 million women.

Latin America and the Caribbean

In Latin America and the Caribbean, between 11 and 18 million people are engaged in paid domestic work; 93 per cent of them are women.  Domestic work represents up to 14 per cent of women’s employment in the region.

A recent study by ILO, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) and the Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC) estimates that, as of early June, 70 per cent of domestic workers in the region had been affected by measures taken to contain the pandemic.

“The crisis has exacerbated existing vulnerabilities and inequalities,” says Vinícius Pinheiro, ILO Director for Latin America and the Caribbean. “In addition to the specter of unemployment, informality, low social protection coverage and the lack of written contracts – in many cases – prevent them from accessing the aid established by Governments.”

ILO highlights the importance of paid domestic work as a key sector in the region’s care economy, drawing attention to its fundamental contribution to sustainable living and economic revival.

The study – Remunerated Domestic Workers in Latin America and the Caribbean and the COVID-19 crisis – recommends ways to mitigate the impact of the health, economic and social crises caused by the pandemic on domestic workers:

  • Promote measures to guarantee continued employment in domestic work.
  • Extend and promote unemployment benefits for domestic workers.
  • Guarantee cash transfers or emergency social benefits.
  • Develop health and safety protocols tailored to the paid domestic work sector.
  • Guarantee health coverage to all domestic workers.
  • Ensure that care services are considered a priority.
  • Promote the formalization of domestic work.
  • Promote comprehensive social protection systems.
  • Promote social dialogue.
  • Promote digital training and the financial inclusion of domestic workers.
  • Ensure access to information and legal advice for domestic workers.
  • Promote awareness campaigns on the rights of domestic workers.

Watch more about what actress Yalitza Aparicio has to say about the protection of domestic workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

About the author

Department of Global Communications

The United Nations Department of Global Communications (DGC) promotes global awareness and understanding of the work of the United Nations.

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