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Millions of Domestic Workers Among Hardest Hit by Pandemic, Report Finds

FILE - A migrant domestic worker from Africa pulls her luggage toward a bus that will take her with others to the airport to travel back to their home countries, in a Beirut suburb, Lebanon, Oct. 5, 2020.

A report by the International Labor Organization (ILO) finds 10 years after the landmark Convention on Domestic Workers was adopted, there has been little improvement in their work conditions.

When the convention was adopted, domestic workers were among the most undervalued, invisible members of the global workforce. Ten years later, they still struggle to be seen and recognized as people who provide an essential service.

Data in the ILO report show the world’s 75.6 million domestic workers continue to suffer from poor working conditions, low pay and a lack of social protection. It finds for many, the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened their already difficult situation.

ILO Director General Guy Ryder says domestic workers have lost their jobs or had their hours of work reduced in greater numbers than others during the pandemic. He notes many domestic workers are migrants. So, their status in the country in which they work could be called into question if they lost their jobs.

“Many domestic workers are live-in employees. They could lose their lodgings where they live if they lose their job as well. So, behind the aggregated numbers, I think there is a sort of deeper human impact, which accentuates even more the suffering involved in the labor market impact on them of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Ryder said.

The ILO reports domestic work remains a female-dominated sector, accounting for three-quarters of domestic workers worldwide. Ryder said women comprise more than 80% of those working in the informal sector, which makes them more prone to exploitation and abuse.

“Informal employment is characterized by poor working conditions, a lack of protection. And so, we find that the vulnerability of many domestic workers, earning their living behind closed doors and in private households, is that vulnerability is magnified by this condition of informality,” he said.

Ryder says the crisis highlights the need to formalize domestic work to ensure their access to decent work and laws that can protect their rights.

The report finds women make up most of the workforce in Europe, Central Asia and in the Americas. However, it notes men outnumber women in Arab countries and in North Africa.