Have you ever heard someone ask a woman who is taking care of her children while she is away from home? In our region, the cultural expectation that women are the primary caregivers and responsible for household tasks still persists. However, this disproportionate burden not only affects mothers. It also has profound implications for the economy and millions of domestic workers.
A Portrait of Domestic Workers in Our Region
In our region, 11% of employed women work as domestic workers, compared to less than 1% among men. However, the majority of these women are informal workers: 72% lack social security protection. This is well above the average informality rate in the overall economy, which stands at 35%. In several countries in the region, virtually all domestic workers lack social security coverage.
Percentage of domestic workers without access to social security.
To address this situation, governments in Latin America and the Caribbean have implemented regulatory changes to formalize domestic work. One example is the mandatory coverage of social security, often transitioning to a general regime instead of a special one. Before these changes, domestic work in several countries was regulated under a special regime that explicitly discriminated against this type of employment, providing fewer benefits compared to other workers.
In some countries, these regulatory changes were accompanied by specific policies aimed at changing incentives and promoting the registration of domestic workers. Some of these actions include:
- Fiscal incentives for registration
- Distribution of information about the benefits of formal employment for both employers and employees
- Subsidies for registered domestic employment
- Strengthening government monitoring and inspection capacities
- Simplified access to justice and tools for collective bargaining.
Challenges for Formalization
Despite these efforts, evidence indicates that these policies do not always succeed in changing the labor situation of domestic workers. When they do, the changes in labor registration tend to be relatively small. The experiences of countries in the region suggest that the best results are achieved by combining regulatory changes with various policies of incentivization, information, and oversight.
Domestic work employs a higher percentage of women in vulnerable conditions due to their membership in migrant or ethnic/racial minority groups. Improving the working conditions of this group would allow these women to access the labor rights enjoyed by the rest of the salaried workforce. Ensuring the same legal framework would enable these workers to access medical and parental leave when needed in the short term. Additionally, contributions to social security would grant them access to retirement benefits at the end of their professional lives, contributing to reducing the gaps in pension system access observed in the region.
Actions to improve the working conditions of domestic workers:
Five key actions have been identified to make substantial progress in the registration of domestic workers:
- Update labor regulations: Establish the mandatory affiliation of domestic work to social security and ensure that working conditions are on par with other wage earners.
- Facilitate registration and payment mechanisms for social contributions: Simplify procedures and payments, while ensuring that employer contributions are accessible.
- Inform employees and employers about their rights and obligations: Conduct awareness campaigns through media and relevant unions to promote formalization and compliance with legal obligations.
- Strengthen enforcement: Carry out inspections and enforce effective sanctions to ensure compliance with labor standards in the domestic work sector.
- Professionalize domestic workers: Provide training courses and certifications to improve the quality of work and offer better job opportunities.
Additionally, it is crucial to expand efforts to assess the impact of legal reforms and formalization programs. These assessments should also incorporate a diversity perspective, analyzing the differential effects that these policies have on specific groups of domestic workers.
Towards Labor Equity
Gender equity and the formalization of domestic work are fundamental challenges in our region. Implementing effective policies and achieving regulatory changes is essential to guarantee the rights and improve the working conditions of domestic workers. Only through collective and committed actions can we move towards a more just and equal society for all women.
To read more about the challenges faced by domestic workers and the policies being implemented in the region, explore our new publication.