Home-workers need to be better protected: ILO


Those working from home, whose number has greatly increased due to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, need better protection, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has said in a new report.

Since home-working occurs in the private sphere it is often ‘invisible’. In low- and middle-income countries for instance, almost all home-based workers (90 per cent) work informally.

They are usually worse off than those who work outside the home, even in higher-skilled professions.

Home-workers earn on average 13 per cent less in the United Kingdom; 22 per cent less in the United States of America; 25 per cent less in South Africa and about 50 per cent in Argentina, India and Mexico, as per the report.

Home-workers also face greater safety and health risks and have less access to training than non-home-based workers, which can affect their career prospects.

The report, ‘Working from home. From invisibility to decent work’, also reveals that home-workers do not have the same level of social protection as other workers. They are also less likely to be part of a trade union or to be covered by a collective bargaining agreement.

According to ILO estimates, prior to the COVID-19 crisis , there were approximately 260 million home-based workers worldwide, representing 7.9 per cent of global employment; 56 per cent of them (147 million) were women.

They include tele-workers who work remotely on a continual basis, and a vast number of workers who are involved in the production of goods that cannot be automated, such as embroidery, handicrafts, electronic assembly.

A third category, digital platform workers, provide services, such as processing insurance claims, copy-editing, or data annotation for the training of artificial intelligence systems.

In the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 an estimated one-in-five workers found themselves working from home. Data for the whole of 2020, once it is available, is expected to show a substantial increase on the previous year.

The growth of home-working is likely to continue in the coming years, the report says, bringing renewed urgency to the need to address the issues facing home-workers and their employers. Home-working is often poorly regulated and compliance with existing laws remains a challenge. In many instances, home-workers are classified as independent contractors and therefore excluded from the scope of labour legislation.

“Many countries around the world have legislation, sometimes complemented by collective pacts that addresses various decent work deficits associated with homework.

Nonetheless, only 10 ILO member states have ratified Convention 177 that promotes equality of treatment between home-workers and other wage earners, and few have a comprehensive policy on homework,”

Janine Berg, ILO senior economist and one of report’s authors has been quoted as saying in a media release.

The report includes recommendations to make home-working more visible and thus better protected.

For industrial home-workers, the report underlines importance of facilitating their transition to formal economy by extending legal protections, improving compliance, generalizing written contracts, providing access to social security and making home-workers aware of their rights.

For home-based, digital platform workers, whose activities raise particular challenges for compliance as they cross multiple borders, the report advocates the use of data generated by their work to monitor working conditions and tools to set fair wages.

For tele-workers, the report calls on policymakers to put in place specific actions to mitigate psychosocial risks and introduce a ‘right to disconnect’, to ensure respect for the boundaries between working life and private life.

Home-working is likely to take on greater importance in years to come, the report says.

Governments, in cooperation with workers’ and employers’ organisations, should work together to ensure all homeworkers — whether they are weaving rattan in Indonesia, making shea butter in Ghana, tagging photos in Egypt, sewing masks in Uruguay, or tele-working in France — move from invisibility to decent work.