Despite a series of laws meant to encourage the transition toward the formal workforce, Colombia’s domestic laborers are overwhelmingly part of the country’s large “informal” sector, made up of those workers without labor contracts, according to a study released Wednesday.
A National Union Labor School (Escuela Nacional Sindical — ENS) report claimed that only 8,000 of the 735,000 people working in the domestic employment sector enjoy guaranteed benefits or other labor protections that come with a formal contract.
Domestic workers, 95% of whom are women, according to the report, often work 48 hours a week or more for less than minimum salary, according the ENS. Only one in 10 has a formal contract.
“The human rights of women are an invisible part of human rights, and the current status of domestic work in Colombia requires urgent actions,“ the report concludes.
“The human rights of women are an invisible part of human rights, and the current status of domestic work in Colombia requires urgent actions”
The study states that domestic work has been a gateway to employment for women with little education, low rates of literacy, and little to no work experience. As a previous Colombia Reports investigation revealed, over 80% of Colombians without a college education eventually work informally. A lack of education not only prevents workers from obtaining more steady employment, it ensures informal workers are often unaware of the relevant labor law.
“Domestic work, as given in the privacy of a home, is not recognized as an employment relationship. Additionally, there are obstacles such as high illiteracy surrounding domestic workers, preventing them from claiming their rights,” said ENS official Vivian Osorio, according to the national El Tiempo newspaper.
Because of their informal status, domestic workers do not receive required pension and social security payments on behalf of their employers or paid vacation and sick leave, nor are they protected by occupational risk laws.The ENS performed a case study of Medellin, Colombia’s second largest city, finding that 91% of domestic employees worked between 10 to 18 hours a day, despite a Constitutional Court ruling that such work cannot exceed 10 hours. Some 90% are not being paid for overtime, 86 % receive less than minimum wage, and more than half are being discriminated at work, the ENS reports.
Among other efforts to incentive formalization, the Colombian government has ratifyied the International Labour Office’s (ILO) Convention 189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers, which lays out various legal protections for informal laborers and consequences for illegal employers.
But labor controls are weak at best, and authorities have not made significant progress investigating violations.
“The Ministry of Labor only investigated part of the complains they received, of which only 14 ended in sanction process. This, among nearly 750,000 domestic employees, it is a precarious scenario”
“The Ministry of Labor only investigated part of the complains they received, of which only 14 ended in sanction process. This, among nearly 750,000 domestic employees, it is a precarious scenario,” said Osorio.
To address the situation, the ENS is calling for increased formalization through domestic workers unions and an institutional strengthening of labor inspections.
According to Colombia’s statistics agency, as much as 60% the national workforce is informal. Estimates have placed the percent of GDP represented by these laborers as high as 20%.
- El trabajo doméstico, deudas pendientes y nuevas agendas (Escuela Nacional Sindical)
- Solo 1 de cada 100 empleadas domésticas tiene contrato laboral (El Tiempo)
- Colombia ratifies the Domestic Workers Convention (ILO)