As we continue our work to advance the rights of undocumented domestic workers, we were heard on October 15 in the European Economic and Social Committee on migrant live-in care workers in Europe.
The conference was organised by the European Economic and Social Committee to discuss a report on “The future of live-in care work in Europe” produced by Committee member Adam Rogalweski and Karol Florek on their country visits carried out as follow up to the SOC/535 opinion on the topic. Representatives of the European Commission, the International Labour Organisation and EU employers’ networks also presented to the Committee.
At the meeting, our Senior Advocacy Officer Lilana Keith warmly welcomed the report, and its efforts to address the issues faced by undocumented live-in care workers.
It was emphasised that it will not be possible to ensure quality jobs and services in the domestic care sector without improving the conditions of migrant women.
The domestic work sector overall is highly feminised – with over 80% of domestic workers being women globally. Deeply entrenched gender inequalities, the lack of recognition of domestic work as work, limited services and service cuts have resulted in a situation where domestic work and non-medical home care sectors are under-regulated and largely informal, and excluded from key employment law protections. Poor working conditions, including long working hours, often being on call, having limited rest periods and holidays, and low pay are endemic. Requirements for domestic workers to carry out care tasks for which they have not been trained are also a major issue.
At the same time, there is a strong reliance on a labour force of migrant women, who make up 65,8% of domestic workers in Northern, Southern & Western Europe. However, this demand is not met with adequate regular channels for migration. This means that many of these women have no other choice than working without papers to sustain themselves and their families. In other cases, they are only able to work on very restrictive visas linking their residence status to a single employer, which leaves migrant women unable to change employers without losing status and vulnerable to exploitation.
A crucial issue is the inability for those with precarious residence status to access justice. When undocumented, migrant women risk being deported if they lodge a complaint about exploitation or violence to police or labour authorities. In addition, they face challenges in proving their working relationship, and can risk fines or other penalties because of their irregular residence status or employment relationship.
In this context, the poor working conditions are exacerbated for migrant live-in carers. They also face unequal treatment in access to basic services including health care and social protection. As live-in carers, they face extreme isolation, often having their mobility highly restricted, and other rights violations such as limited access to food, private space, etc.
The role of migration policies and the way they are enforced in facilitating labour exploitation is clear. For instance, in the UK, a 2012 act overturned previous legislation and deprived migrant domestic workers of their right to withdraw their labour and change employer, which had given them some bargaining power to challenge mistreatment, negotiate better terms and conditions of employment and escape abuse if necessary. Experiences of different types of abuse more than doubled as a result.
Therefore, the recommendations in the EESC report are crucial. In particular, PICUM supports the calls for the application of labour standards to the sector, and ensuring that all workers, regardless of their status, are able to enforce those labour rights, by establishing effective complaints mechanisms that enable workers to file a complaint and access remedies without immigration enforcement consequences. In addition, work permit schemes for the domestic and care sectors which ensure decent work need to be implemented, ensuring the right to change employer, equal treatment, family unity, and applications within the territory so that currently undocumented workers can regularise their status and work. It will also be essential to ensure that migrants’ rights organisations and migrant worker representatives are around the table when policies are being developed.
In addition to those in the report, we would underline the need for improved regulation of recruitment agencies and au pair agencies and arrangements, which contribute to the exploitation of migrant live-in carers.
Recognising the complexity of the challenges around this sector, PICUM is committed to a multi-stakeholder approach, and will continue to work with the European Commission, social partners, and others to implement much needed reforms.