A Pakistani child domestic worker. Credit: Fahim Siddiqi
By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Jun 11 2020 (IPS)
Even before Covid-19, the world was facing a care crisis. The
plight of often neglected, under-appreciated, under-protected and
poorly equipped ‘frontline’ health personnel working to contain
the pandemic has drawn attention to the tip of the care crisis
Rising care work burden
Ageing populations as well as cuts to public services and social
protection were making matters worse, increasing the burden on
carers, or care givers/providers, regardless of their employment
Elderly people need long-term care as they age, while existing
social arrangements, including government services, remain
inadequate and ill prepared. Such demands on caregivers will
continue to increase as populations grow and people live
Oxfam’s annual early 2020 Davos report, Time to Care,
estimates that 2.3 billion people will need care by 2030, 200
million more than in 2015, including 100 million more older people
and an additional 100 million children aged 6 to 14 years.
Care work, unpaid or underpaid, is generally not visible,
greatly undervalued and typically taken for granted. It is often
not considered real or proper ‘work’, with spending for care
work considered a cost, not an investment.
The nature of care work and gender discrimination undermines the
health and well-being of its mainly female workers. Women and
girls, especially the poor and marginalized, do
12.5 billion hours of care work daily for free, and much more
for poor wages.
The women and girls are left ‘time-poor’, often unable to
meet their own needs. Consequently, they have less time for
education and paid work, let alone fully participate socially and
Unpaid care work
The study argued that unpaid care work is essential for our
economies, businesses and societies. However, unpaid care work is
often underappreciated when measuring economic progress and social
wellbeing, not least because this burden is mainly borne by women
and girls, who do more than three-quarters of all unpaid care
Jomo Kwame Sundaram
Oxfam estimates that the monetary value of women’s
unpaid care work globally, for women aged 15 and over, is at
least US$10.8 trillion annually. Although high, this figure is
still believed to be an underestimate, with the true figure far
Women thus often earn less because their unpaid care work limits
their time for paid work; in fact, 42 per cent of working age
women, compared to six per cent of males, cannot get paid work due
to their caregiving responsibilities.
Climate change is also increasing the need for unpaid care.
In five years, up to 2.4 billion people will be living in areas
without enough water, forcing women and girls to carry more water
even further. Also, as global warming and other developments
adversely affect health and food production, many women and girls
will have to work more to cope.
Besides doing care work for free at home, many poor women also
provide care for others, especially as
domestic workers, among the most poorly treated employees in
the world. Hence, they are also more likely to be in undesirable,
poorly paid, dirty and precarious jobs.
a tenth of domestic workers are covered by labour laws as much
as other workers, while only around half have minimum wage
more than half of all domestic workers, national laws do not
limit working hours.
3.4 million domestic workers in forced labour do not get US$8
billion yearly, or about three-fifths of the wages due to them.
Forced labour and trafficking cause
domestic workers to be “trapped in other people’s homes”,
with “their lives controlled”, but also “rendered invisible
Two-thirds of the paid ‘care workforce’ are women. Jobs —
such as nursery workers, domestic workers, and ‘care
assistants’ — are often physically and emotionally draining,
besides being poorly paid, with few benefits, despite having to
work irregular hours.
Redistributing care burden
The Oxfam report notes that governments greatly under-tax the
wealthy, and hence do not collect enough revenue to better fund
vital public services, including social services and
Progressive taxation and spending, including subsidized social
services and social protection, would reduce the burden of care
work and social inequality. Better investments in electricity,
water, sanitation, childcare and healthcare would improve the
quality of care workers’ lives by easing their care work
Such efforts should recognize unpaid and poorly paid care work
as providing real value. Better, affordable and equitable access to
time-saving care-supporting infrastructure and devices would also
reduce the burden of unpaid care tasks.
With government and employers reducing the burden of care work,
redistributing unpaid care work more fairly within households would
become more feasible. Enabling meaningful participation by care
givers, paid and unpaid, in policy-making would also help.
Oxfam proposed various actions, including national care
systems, to help care givers including: improving the lot of both
the unpaid and the underpaid; addressing the greater burden on
women and girls; improving and protecting care workers’ rights,
with paid employees entitled to living wages and decent working
Governments were urged to ratify ILO Convention 189, protecting
domestic workers and eliminating gender wage gaps. Societies should
also challenge the harmful and discriminatory social and cultural
norms that care work is the responsibility of women and girls,
including by encouraging men and boys to share care work
Businesses must also recognize the value of care work for
employees’ wellbeing and productivity. Employers should provide
benefits and services, such as crèches and other childcare
entitlements, while ensuring decent working conditions for care
Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
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