COVID-19 Highlights Need for Protections for Millions of Homeworkers

COVID-19 Highlights Need for Protections for Millions of Homeworkers

2021-01-13 14:09:43

The dramatic global shift to remote working during COVID-19 lockdowns has underscored the urgent need for better protections for homeworkers, many of whom are paid far less than those who work outside the home, the United Nations said Wednesday.

About 7.9% of workers – 260 million people – were at home before the pandemic, but this figure has more than doubled, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO).

“Home workers have been invisible for too long. But the explosion of working from home during the pandemic has highlighted the poor working conditions of millions of people worldwide, ”ILO economist Janine Berg told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Home workers earn an average of 13% less than non-home workers in Britain, 22% less in the United States, 25% less in South Africa and about 50% less in Argentina, India and Mexico, the ILO said in a report.

The UN agency looked at the challenges faced by "industrial home workers" who produce goods such as clothing, electronics and crafts, white-collar teleworkers and the growing number of service tasks through digital work platforms.

These jobs, where workers are paid by the job, include insurance claims processing, online content moderation, copying and annotation of data for artificial intelligence systems.

Homeworkers do not have the same level of social protection as people who work outside the home, and are less likely to be unionized or covered by collective bargaining agreements, the ILO said.

They face greater health and safety risks, especially when handling tools or chemicals such as adhesives, and have less access to training than other workers, which can affect career prospects.

Berg, the report's co-author, said a major issue was the classification of many home workers as independent contractors, putting them outside the scope of most labor laws.

The ILO called on governments to extend labor and social security legislation to homeworkers in the informal economy.

It also revealed specific challenges related to job protection for employees of digital platforms, which are spread all over the world and may work in a different country from the online platform and the customer.

Many earn less than the minimum wage and if their work is rejected, they do not have an independent referee.

The report recommends using data generated by their work to monitor working conditions.

Berg predicted technological advancements and the COVID-19 pandemic would lead to a permanent increase in the number of people working from home via the Internet, email and video conferencing.

"It's not necessarily a bad thing – some people really like it. But it's about being aware of the potential risks," she said. "The pandemic has the urgency of this. problems. "

One concern for teleworkers is that employers could gradually replace homeworking workers with contractors, possibly from countries where labor is cheaper.

Another problem is the blurring between work and leisure. France, Chile, Belgium, Ecuador and Italy have introduced rules that give employees the right to disconnect and ensure bosses respect the boundaries between work and private life.

(Reporting by Emma Batha @emmabatha; edited by Katy Migiro.)

About Emma Batha, Thomson Reuters Foundation

The Thomson Reuters Foundation is the charity arm of Thomson Reuters, covering the lives of people around the world who struggle to live free or fair lives. Visit

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