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On International Domestic Workers Day 2020, trade unions and allied domestic workers’ groups are foregrounding the essential, but often undervalued or overlooked efforts of domestic workers in Europe and across the globe. No workers have been immune to the coronavirus crisis, but domestic workers have taken particular strain.
EFFAT estimates that there are approximately 26 million domestic workers in the Europe, more than half of whom are working undeclared. The nature of their work – in private homes – has left domestic workers incredibly vulnerable to both the direct health risks of COVID-19, and the financial side-effects of lockdown and social distancing imposed by states. Most clearly, it has presented many domestic workers with an inescapable choice: their income or their health!
Although the situation has improved, large numbers of domestic workers still lack adequate personal protective equipment (PPE). While the prevalence of non-standard forms of employment in the sector has left many domestic workers outside the cover of the job retention or income support schemes developed in response to the pandemic.
At the start of April 2020, EFFAT sought to address these issues in a Joint Statement on the COVID-19 Pandemic in Personal and Household Services (PHS) issued in cooperation with the European Federation for Family Employment and Home Care, the European Federation for Services to Individuals, and UNI-Europa, and supported by the International Domestic Workers’ Federation. This statement put forward a range of proposals to tackle the health and financial challenges associated with the COVID-19 outbreak, from adequate provision of PPE and access to sick leave, to the extension of existing financial and employment support measures (including the right to apply for temporary economic unemployment or short-time work) and deferred payment of social security contributions and taxes.
Further, because about 70% of all domestic workers in Europe have no contract at all – and thus no social protections – EFFAT and its affiliates are pushing for the regularisation of undocumented domestic workers as well as more stringent measures to prevent informal employment.
Domestic work is work. And domestic workers’ labour rights must be respected – including the right to work without fear of sexual harassment and violence. EFFAT is calling on governments worldwide to ratify ILO Convention 189 as a baseline for labour standards in the sector, and follow the example of Uruguay and ratify ILO Convention 190 on violence and harassment.
Commenting on the occasion of International Domestic Workers Day, EFFAT General Secretary, Kristjan Bragason, said:
“Every June 16th, we are reminded to stand together and support domestic workers in their efforts to organise and to fight for their rights as workers. EFFAT stands with you.
“This year, we draw attention to the impacts of coronavirus, which has without doubt made things worse for domestic workers. At the same time, it is also important to remember that COVID-19 is not the root cause of many of the problems afflicting the sector.
“It is not acceptable that in one of the richest regions in the world we allow domestic workers to be paid below a living wage, to be excluded from existing social protection schemes and sometimes fall prey to modern slavery.
“Nor is it acceptable that the injustices of the sector affect mostly women and migrant workers, who make up the vast majority of the PHS workforce.
“Migrant domestic workers have been especially vulnerable during the coronavirus crisis, as residence permits are often linked to employment. And the risks for undocumented migrant domestic workers without access to income compensation or social protections – even in the event of illness or dismissal – need no explanation.
“That’s why, today, EFFAT reaffirms its commitment to the collective struggle for domestic workers’ rights.”
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Notes
For more than 10 years, EFFAT has been intensifying its support for domestic workers in Europe. Since the EFFAT Congress in November 2019, this engagement has been manifested in the new EFFAT Statutes, the EFFAT Political Framework 2020-2024, and the EFFAT Action Plan 2020-2021. For example, there is to be an annual sector assembly for domestic workers, in addition to the existing general assemblies for the other EFFAT sectors.
Press contact: Steve Gilmore – [email protected]

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