Minimum wage requirements exclude SKN domestic workers

By Dave Kaiser

Domestic workers encounter huge work deficits and a lack of social security coverage throughout the world according to a study issued Monday by the International Labour Organization (ILO). The report, “Social Protection for Domestic Workers: Key Policy Trends and Statistics,” provides comprehensive statistics about the challenges of resolving the worldwide deficit of social coverage for domestic workers.

The report for the first time addresses social protection of the domestic work sector at a global level, providing an overview of social security provisions for the domestic work sector in 163 countries.

Although the report does not include statistics from stats from St. Kitts and Nevis specifically, Andrea Cuba Sanchez, ILO media consultant in Washington, D.C. told The Observer, it does include data from other countries in the Caribbean.

Sanchez said the ILO “Working Conditions Laws” database shows that domestic workers are excluded from minimum wages protections in St. Kitts and Nevis. Sanchez said, “There is minimum wage protection for domestic workers in Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, and Barbados (fixed separately from the general minimum wages). The database provides a picture of the regulatory environment of working time, minimum wages and maternity protection in more than 100 countries around the world.”

An associated ILO report, “Domestic Workers Across the World,” studied the Caribbean area and concluded:

“In the Caribbean countries, the absolute number of domestic workers is not as large as in Latin America, reflecting the small population sizes of the countries. Nonetheless, the incidence of domestic work is still fairly high. For instance, in the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands, domestic workers account for 5.9 and 9.1 percent of total employment, respectively. The relative shares of men and women in domestic work in the Caribbean are similar to those in Latin America. For example, 90 percent of the 194,600 domestic workers in the Dominican Republic are women, and the female share reaches 94 percent in Aruba.”

The latest ILO report issued this week provides an overview of trends, policies and gaps in terms of legal and effective social security coverage for domestic workers; describes their institutional organization, financing and administration; and informs on challenges to extending coverage; and provides a compilation and description of international practices of social security schemes for the domestic work sector, including comparative information.

The ILO information highlights an important coverage deficit. It is estimated that of the 67 million domestic workers worldwide, 60 million are excluded from social security coverage of social security. Of 163 countries included in the study, at least 70 (43 percent) have laws mandating legal coverage for domestic workers of one of more of nine branches of social security established in the ILO’s Social Security (Minimum Standards) Convention (No. 102).

ILO says the domestic work sector is highly relevant, due both to its quantitative importance in terms of the volume of employment the activity contributes to the economy and its significant social and economic and economic contribution in all modern societies.

The report indicates the domestic work sector is considered a “difficult-to-cover” group. ILO estimates that globally 90 percent of domestic workers are legally excluded from social security systems. It points out several reasons for this conclusion:

* work is performed in a private household and frequently for more than one employer;

* the occupation is characterized by high job turnover;

* there are frequent in-kind payment and irregular wages; and

* labour relations that are not usually established through a formal work contract.

These difficulties are also associated with other factors such as the lack of legal recognition of domestic work as an occupation, the existence of discriminatory social and legal practices, as well as other socio-cultural elements which engender a low social value for domestic work.

The objective of this report is to present international information with respect to the configuration and practices of social security schemes in terms of their personal scope, institutional organization, administration and coverage rates.

The findings in this study underscore the magnitude of the challenge of resolving the worldwide deficit of social security coverage for domestic workers. The challenge is a daunting one and involves most countries, even developed nations. The study demonstrates major gaps exist in legal and effective coverage at regional and country levels. ILO says there is a clear trend toward increased coverage, especially in developing countries.

According to the study, the largest gaps in social security coverage for the domestic work sector are concentrated in developing countries, where few nations provide legal coverage for this sector. Moreover, developing regions have the largest share of domestic workers worldwide. Asia and Latin America regroup 68 percent of domestic workers worldwide.

Women comprise the majority of domestic workers, accounting for 80 percent of all workers in the sector globally, which means that approximately 55 million women participate in this activity. Given that it is predominantly a female workforce subject to conditions of discrimination and social and economic vulnerability, policies to extend social protection to domestic workers are a key component to fight poverty and promote gender equality.

Countries with high levels of social protection coverage for the domestic work sector have implemented a combination of strategies that include: application of mandatory rather than voluntary coverage; differentiated contributory schemes in relation to those applied to other employees; governmental subsidies; fiscal incentives; registration plans for workers who have more than one employer (multi-employer); or who work part-time; education and awareness-raising programmes targeting domestic workers and their employers; intensive use of information technologies; and implementation of service voucher mechanisms and presumptive schemes.

It is important to bear in mind that policies and strategies to extend social security in the domestic work sector form part of a broader set of interventions guided by formalization policies in general. These policies are part of the labour protection system, which includes the domestic work sector.