The DOMINA Observatory’s research represents the attempt carried out by national employers to boost “culture” and “debate” around the topic of domestic work. While the DOMINA Observatory has played an authoritative and credible role in analysing domestic labour phenomena at the national level for years, there is still a long way to go for what concerns the European level. For this reason, the DOMINA Observatory has decided to include in this dossier the contributions of European universities researching this field. This is intended to further broaden the debate by raising awareness about domestic work and the role of employer families.
Domestic and Care Work Regulation in Italy: Is this still an unsolved Problem?
By Luisa De Vita and Antonio Corasaniti – Sapienza Rome University
The domestic work sector retains some critical issues, especially in terms of regulation. In Italy, the scarce presence of public support has left the issue of regulation primarily in the hands of families, leading to an atomization of regulation and full recognition of these workers, also in terms of rights. The general objective of the research was to analyse the characteristics of domestic work within the Italian context. First, at a general level, this sector is increasingly at the centre of a progressive process of marketization that sees domestic work increasingly entrusted to private entities. This trend does not yet appear to be fully consolidated, and domestic work continues to be kept firmly within households. The importance of domestic work conducted within the family has stimulated a rich debate focused mainly on highlighting the critical issues related to working conditions and regulation of the sector. Many scholars have underlined the low value historically attributed to domestic and care activities and how, according to other scholars, the feminization of care activities has contributed to keeping wages low and employment conditions precarious. At the same time, analyses have highlighted how challenging it is to effectively target these workers, especially when they are immigrants. Considering these problematic aspects, it is interesting to analyse the strategies and actions undertaken by the various regulatory actors. The mobilization of the traditional actors is in fact crucial, especially when new stakeholders (such as immigrant workers or dependent elderly people, for instance) find themselves in a position of less power and voice. The social partners are pressured to compensate for the new actors’ inability to mobilize them, either by pressing for increased regulation of the sector and by reinforcing the demands for care within the political agenda.
Starting from these findings, we found it interesting to analyse the strategies and actions undertaken by the different actors of regulation in Italy. Through a series of in-depth interviews with trade unions, employer associations, non-profit associations and training institutions carried out between the end of 2018 and the end of 2020, the research analysed the actions taken, reconstructing if and how the different parties have worked on shared strategies, the nature of the care model supported and the actions, if any, to qualify the sector and reduce dependence on family resources. The results of the research seem to confirm the pivotal role of families in the management of domestic and care work. What also emerges is the essential role played in recent years by the various players in the arena of representation. Unions, in particular, seem to be highly active, especially on the servicing side. The widespread presence of trade unions in the various territories and the wide range of services offered are certainly unique in Europe. In the case of domestic and care workers, consisting of a predominantly foreign population, the meeting with the union is not necessarily linked to the worker’s condition but more generally concerns useful activities for socialization and access to services (language courses, services related to regularization practices, access to social benefits, etc.). However, trade union action is weakened by at least two orders of factors. The first – external – is linked to the mechanisms of downward competition, while the second – internal – depends on the composition of the internal interests of representation.
Specifically, the external criticalities are linked to the recent proliferation of a series of “pirate” contracts, signed by poorly representative organizations, that tend to stipulate fewer safeguards and lower minimum wages than those guaranteed by the contract drafted or signed by the most representative associations, with the effect of making it more difficult to comply with the minimum standards laid down in the Collective Agreement for the sector. As several union actors pointed out in the interviews, the expansion of the domestic labour market has also led to the emergence of multiple private intermediary agencies that provide families with domestic workers whose services are available at a lower cost. Critical internal issues, on the other hand, concern the presence of a sort of conflict of interest linked to the fact that trade unions represent both employers (e.g., retirees who are members of a union and have hired domestic workers) and workers who may have recourse against their employers. On the employer side, the interviews confirm the pivotal role of these actors within the sector. The great activism of these actors, even with respect to the bilateral bodies, seems to have played a key role in the overall increase of the level of regularization and professionalization of the sector. The role of training is also central. Through the action of the bilateral agency, the efforts of the employers are aimed, above all, at making the domestic work sector as homogeneous as possible throughout the country, thus avoiding territorial asymmetries that have important repercussions on the quality of work offered to families.
In addition, therefore, to the problem of informality, the action is aimed at activating mechanisms for skills certification, which, through specialized training recognized uniformly throughout the country, can assure families the possibility of choosing the professional qualification best suited to their needs. However, the interviews also highlight the relative ineffectiveness of these actions without a coordinated and direct action from the State to accompany and inform families. Overall, the research reveals a system under pressure. If, on the one hand, for the unions the possibility of intercepting workers is not immediate, on the other hand, the employers’ associations, while acting in the sense of improving qualifications and, therefore, working conditions, still need to protect, above all, families, and, in any case, suffer from weaknesses tied to the absence of greater public regulation. Due to the lack of external intermediation between workers and families, the current system tends to be unbalanced towards the family, which therefore maintains a certain discretion (on hours worked, pay, etc.) even with respect to the application of the contract, with greater weight given to it in the bargaining phase. Domestic workers, on the other hand, not only face the challenges of low labour costs, but also those of low social esteem. This aspect also emerged during the pandemic period, when domestic workers were first excluded from the emergency measures adopted at the beginning of the first lockdown and, even when they were later included, coverage was only partial. The most recent version of the Collective Bargaining Agreement guarantees better working conditions and encourages workers to obtain better qualifications. However, this improvement depends on the economic conditions of the family, which would face higher costs without any form of public subsidy. Employers are therefore likely to find the Collective Bargaining Agreement too costly, prompting them to turn to market players that offer more economically affordable options, but often at the expense of workers’ rights and protections. The main challenge facing the domestic work market is therefore still a lack of ability to conceive of care as a collective and public responsibility. Despite the commitment of trade unions and employers, their efforts are hindered by the fact that it is still the families that must manage the work relationships with their own economic and relational resources. What results is an inequitable and asymmetrical model, both for those who provide care and those who receive it.
Executive summary of the “Comparative Study on Health and Safety at Work in the Personal and Household Services Sector. Fair Work and Equality Law Clinic”
By Léa Caner, Nino Aleksandria, Vasilia Riga, Zora Geertsema17 – University of Amsterdam
This report provides a comparative study on health and safety at work in the personal and household services (PHS) sector in Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands.
Purpose of the Report
To provide a comprehensive study of the health and safety at work in the PHS sector in Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy, four main questions were asked in this report:
- How is health and safety at work in the Personal and Household Services sector regulated in the cases of Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy?
- Are there any gaps in the protection of workers in the Personal and Household Services sector regarding health and safety at work in the three countries under study?
- Can we identify and describe “best practises” / “innovative initiatives” in these three countries aimed to improve the protection of workers in this sector concerning health and safety at work?
- What has been the situation of workers in the Personal and Household Services sector regarding health and safety at work during the COVID-19 pandemic?
To effectively approach these questions, the report first examines the definition of personal and household services (PHS), followed by an investigation of the intrinsic characteristics of this sector of employment. The comparative study analyses international and domestic legislation, as well as policy measures and initiatives introduced and implemented in each country studied to protect the health and safety of workers in the PHS sector. The report also investigates how the ratification of the ILO Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189)18, or lack thereof, contributes to safer working conditions for PHS workers.
A – Regarding the health and safety regulation of domestic workers in Belgium, Italy, and the Netherlands:
The scope of domestic work, despite it constituting a significant proportion of the national workforce, has been persistently undervalued and under regulated. The ILO Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189) was created to enhance the work conditions attributed to domestic workers. Accordingly, the Convention, alongside various other instruments, contributes to the preservation of fair and just working conditions, as well as the elimination of discrimination; an area which is relevant to domestic workers due to the majority being of immigrant status. In addition, within this line of work, numerous risks may arise, consisting of, but not limited to, hazardous exposures and psychosocial risks–which may remain unaddressed.
Belgium ratified the ILO Convention No. 189 in 2015, wherein Article 13 of the Convention (right to a safe and healthy environment) expanded the scope of the Well-Being Act to apply to domestic workers. Moreover, the Labour Contracts Act of 3 July 1978, and the Well Being Act of 4 August 1996 display measures to guarantee health and safety in the work sphere; demonstrating more advanced and sufficient regulatory procedures in relation to the other countries under study. The introduction of the National Strategy on Well-Being at Work 2016-2020 in Belgium has allowed for further addressing health and safety concerns whilst, simultaneously, acknowledging certain issues faced by domestic workers, such as language barriers.
Italy ratified the ILO Convention No. 189 in 2013 which has raised awareness for domestic workers’ rights and guided the employer’s organisations, such as DOMINA19, to contribute to the health and safety of the domestic workers.
The Netherlands has not ratified the ILO Convention No. 189 due to the obligations laid out in the Convention in opposition with their domestic legislation, namely the ‘Regeling Dienstverlening Aan Huis’ (RDAH)20 . Health insurance, training possibilities and/or risk mitigation are, most of the time, not available. The employment relationship is often informal between domestic workers and their employer. As a result, domestic workers are exposed to exploitation as they are highly dependent on their employers. The RDAH lacks incentive to ensure health and safety in comparison to the other countries under study.
B – Regarding the gaps in legislation of the protection of workers in the PHS sector in Belgium, Italy, and the Netherlands:
Employees within the PHS sector are prone to encounter more dilemmas than regular employees due to the informality of the sector. Even in countries where there are sufficient safeguards to health and safety in the workplace, or who have ratified the ILO Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189), inevitable gaps still arise. Indeed, the countries under study have demonstrated certain similarities in the matter, such as the inability to conduct inspections and monitoring on the premises (since these are private households). Regarding the attribution of liability, it remains of a rather ambiguous nature; establishing a negligent criterion when injuries ensue would raise complexities in each jurisdiction. Similarly, case-law is rather absent in this field, which may be the result of domestic workers being disincentivized from bringing forth claims. In addition, other gaps have been addressed for each country.
Belgium has revealed its significant competence in sufficiently regulating the PHS sector through the implementation of the Service voucher system. However, the monitoring of health and safety working conditions for domestic workers is limited by the Royal Decree failing to recognise the circumstances of domestic workers, such as having numerous workplaces. The National Employment Office (NEO) asked employers to be well informed on the specific health and safety risks of domestic workers.
In Italy, as the National Collective Labour Agreement on Domestic Work (CCNL)21 is not applicable to undeclared workers, this has left a huge gap in the legislation. If the CCNL does apply to domestic workers there is still insufficient protection for ‘live in’-domestic workers, as it leaves them vulnerable to exploitation in terms of working too many hours.
In the Netherlands, a lack of recognition of domestic workers as ‘real workers‘ and their situations not being considered in domestic legislation, such as the RDAH and the Law on Working Condition (Arbowet)22, caused these ruptures in the system and leaving workers exposed to exploitation and other hardships especially in times like the Covid-19 pandemic.
C – Regarding the “best practices”/innovative initiatives aimed to improve the protection of workers in this sector concerning health and safety at work in Belgium, Italy, and the Netherlands:
When attempting to improve the legal protection of domestic workers through the Service voucher system, Belgium made a significant development, especially regarding issues such as discrimination occurring in the PHS sector. Allocating payment and social security contributions, as well as ascertaining health and safety in the workplace fall under the scope of obligations of the service voucher company. Tax reduction is another benefit service users can receive which has been one of the most successful inducements for Belgium’s PHS sector to stay regularised.
Another mandatory feature in Belgium’s domestic legal framework is training consisting of, for instance, technical training, soft-skill training, and motivational factors. Awareness campaigns on the complexities and risks associated with the work are undertaken to encourage domestic workers to take pride in their employment, which could, altogether, enhance their work abilities.
In Italy, EBINCOLF, the National Bilateral Agency of the Section of Employers and Family Collaborators, is an authority created in the framework of the National Collective Agreement on Domestic Work23.
Training is provided, in a manner as to strengthen the workers’ abilities to combat potential risks arising from their employment and the awareness of their particular role for the care recipients and society. Organisations in Italy, simultaneously, have an obligation to inform employers on the legal obligations, regularisations and formalisation of the employment relationship, whilst providing domestic workers with relevant information. Furthermore, organisations in Italy advise employers on how to fulfil their legal obligations, regularisation, and formalisation of the employment relationship. Information has been published regarding inspection of labour and social legislation through the report – updated in 2019 – of the statistical archives by the National Labour Inspectorate, which has been very beneficial in protecting domestic workers.
The ILO Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189) has not been ratified in the Netherlands as their domestic legal framework does not comply with the Convention. Therefore, the Dutch government has currently not adopted any innovative approach ensuring health and safety of domestic workers. Awareness campaigns initiated by the central government do however exist, consisting of information on the RDAH. The website of the central government provides useful data regarding the obligations employers have like providing insurance and contracts to domestic workers.
D – Regarding the situation of workers in the PHS sector on health and safety at work during the COVID-19 pandemic in Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands:
Upon the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous restrictions arose limiting the ability for employment to be pursued in a regular manner. That is to say, alongside the lockdowns, employment was generally put to a halt, or transferred to an online capacity. For domestic workers, an online nature was inevitably unfeasible, and contracting the virus in their work environment was an increasing concern and risk. This raised questions in numerous countries on whether domestic workers should be recognized as “essential workers.” Simultaneously, the unregulated nature of part of the workforce complicated the matter in terms of ensuring health and safety.
In Belgium, domestic workers were classified as essential workers, and were therefore compelled to continue their employment obligations in personal households. However, pursuant to health and safety concerns related to the risks posed by the virus, unemployment benefits were temporarily offered by the Belgian Federal Government. Furthermore, PPE equipment was distributed to workers in the PHS sector. Lastly, domestic workers during the beginning of the pandemic could receive their full salary when refusing a job if they had health concerns.
Italy suffered the highest amount of coronavirus loss in the entire European Union. Domestic work was explicitly excluded from the ‘Cura Italia’ Decree No. 18 (2020) implemented at the start of the pandemic which consisted of the wage guarantee fund and the ban on dismissals. Thus, domestic workers were susceptible to potentially being dismissed from their employment. Emergency income support measures improved the situation of domestic workers slightly. Both undocumented and documented workers were impacted by COVID-19 in the Netherlands. The little legal protection given by the Dutch legislation (the RDAH) to domestic workers, such as being exempted from receiving social security benefits, meant that, many of them were left empty handed during the pandemic. The health crisis, however elucidated the situation of domestic workers in the country, creating potential for improvements for the current situation of the PHS sector.