COVID-19 highlights need for protection for millions of homeworkers


The global sweeping shift to remote working during COVID-19 lockdowns underscored the urgent need for greater protections for homeworkers, many of whom are paid much less than those employed outside, said Wednesday the United Nations.

About 7.9% of workers – 260 million people – were at home before the pandemic, but that 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 experienced by millions of people around the world, ”ILO economist Janine Berg told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Homeworkers earn on average 13% less than non-homeworkers 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 United Nations agency has looked into the challenges faced by ‘industrial homeworkers’ producing goods such as clothing, electronics and crafts, white collar teleworkers and the growing number of workers. of services via digital work platforms.

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These jobs, where workers are paid by the task, include processing insurance claims, moderating online content, editing copies, and annotating data for artificial intelligence systems.

Homeworkers do not have the same level of social protection as those working outside and are less likely to be part of a union or be covered by a collective agreement, the ILO said.

They face greater health and safety risks, especially when handling tools or chemicals like glues, and have less access to training than other workers, which can affect the prospects of employment. career.

Berg, co-author of the report, said a key issue was the classification of many homeworkers as independent contractors, which puts them outside the scope of most labor laws.

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

He also highlighted the particular employment protection challenges for digital platform workers, who are spread all over the world and may work in a different country from the online platform and the client.

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

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

Berg predicted that technological advancements and the COVID-19 pandemic would lead to a permanent increase in the number of people working from home using 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 made these pressing issues even more urgent.”

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One of the concerns of teleworkers is that employers could gradually replace staff working from home with entrepreneurs, possibly from countries where labor is cheaper.

Another problem is the blur between work and personal time. France, Chile, Belgium, Ecuador and Italy have introduced rules allowing workers to “log off” and ensure that bosses respect the boundaries between work and private life.

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

About Emma Batha, Thomson Reuters Foundation

The Thomson Reuters Foundation is the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers the lives of people around the world who are struggling to live freely or fairly. Visit

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