International: International Labour Organization Report Exposes Poor Working Conditions for Home-Based Workers

(Feb. 5, 2021) The International Labour Organization (ILO) recently published a report, Working from Home: From Invisibility to Decent Work, which highlights the poor working conditions of home-based workers, including occupational safety and health risks, lack of access to social security, slower training, and more and irregular hours. The ILO estimates that the number of people engaged in home-based work has more than doubled since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this figure may underestimate the full picture, as a Stanford economist estimated that 42% of the U.S. labor force was working from home full-time in June 2020.

Home-based work is defined by the ILO’s Home Work Convention (No. 177) and the Home Work Recommendation (No. 184) (adopted in 1996; entered into force in 2000) as

work carried out by a person, to be referred to as a homeworker,

i.       in his or her home or in other premises of his or her choice, other than the workplace of the employer;

ii.      for remuneration;

iii.     which results in a product or service as specified by the employer, irrespective of who provides the equipment, materials or other inputs used,

unless this person has the degree of autonomy and of economic independence necessary to be considered an independent worker under national laws, regulations or court decisions.

As the ILO notes, the main requirement of Convention No. 177 is article 3, which provides that states should “adopt, implement and periodically review a national policy on home work aimed at improving the situation of homeworkers, in consultation with the most representative organizations of employers and workers and, where they exist, with organizations concerned with homeworkers and those of employers of homeworkers.”

While only 10 countries have ratified the convention since its adoption in 1996, nongovernmental organizations have reported progress in advocating for homeworkers’ labor rights using the ILO reporting mechanism. Homeworkers are a heterogeneous category, but before the pandemic, women were twice as likely as men to work from home. This can put particular stress on women, as a recent United Nations report also notes that the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the unpaid work of women around the home as well.

In addition to Convention No. 177, the Transition from the Informal to the Formal Economy Recommendation (No. 204) and the Employment Relationship Recommendation (No. 198) may emerge as useful tools to guide ILO member states in providing legal protection for home-based workers. For example, Recommendation No. 198 provides that measures should be adopted to provide guidance for employers and workers on the distinction between employed and self-employed workers, on contractual arrangements involving multiple parties, and on who is responsible for ensuring effective protection.

In addition, a chapter of the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (CEACR) General Survey on Employment, “Promoting Employment and Decent Work in a Changing Landscape,” is devoted to Convention No. 177 and Recommendation No. 184, which will be discussed by the International Labour Conference in June 2021. The 2020 session of the conference did not take place due to the pandemic, and the General Survey will be accompanied by an addendum containing updated information from ILO tripartite parties about home-based work for the 2021 conference.

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