Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure for me to be here today.

At this Joint Conference on Domestic Workers and Occupational Safety and Health.

When I think of domestic workers, I think of the film Les Intouchables.

It’s a movie about the young immigrant Driss. Who becomes the live-in carer for the paralysed millionaire Philippe.
Driss soon becomes much more than an employee. He becomes a friend.

He helps Philippe enjoy life again. To find love again. Eventually, the two even go paragliding together.

This story illustrates that domestic work is more than just a job. It often leads to deep, personal attachments. Which is great, but it can also make it difficult to remember that the two sides – the employee and the employer, have rights, but also obligations.

And it is these two sides of the employment relation that we want to put in the spotlight on today.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The European Commission and the ILO share a common and active interest in the area of health and safety.

The principle of protecting workers from sickness, disease and injury is important to the ILO. You enshrined it in the Preamble of your constitution. And made it part and parcel of the Decent Work Agenda. With its four pillars on job creation, rights at work, social protection and social dialogue.

Health and safety is also a long-term European concern, dating back to the 1950s. In 1987, the Single European Act provided the legal basis and for the European Framework Directive and legislation on occupational safety and health.

The right to a safe and healthy workplace is part of the Charter of fundamental rights incorporated in the Lisbon Treaty. It is among the core principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights. Which we proclaimed last November together with the European Parliament and the heads of state and government from all EU Member States.

We share a common goal. We want domestic workers to also enjoy a safe and healthy workplace.

And that’s why you are here today. Europe’s foremost experts on health and safety.

We need your expertise and input to have our policies based on sound research and analysis.

Because there is a lot we don’t know about domestic workers.

Let’s start with what we do know. And many of the things we know come from the work that ILO is doing. So thank you for that.

Worldwide, there are at least 67 million domestic workers (based on 2013 ILO data). In the EU, according to 2017 Eurostat figures, we have at least 2.3 million domestic workers, or 1% of the EU labour force.

We know that the sector is increasing worldwide. In size and importance. Because of:

- an ageing population,

- increasing rates of female labour participation,

- and a preference for home-based care.

Families are, more and more, turning to domestic workers. To care for their homes, children, and ageing relatives.

So who are they? What would a typical domestic worker look like? To begin with, she would almost certainly be a woman.

Men also work in the sector. As gardeners, drivers, or butlers. But the vast majority of domestic workers are women: over 80 per cent worldwide and nearly 90% in the EU.

So let’s give her – that domestic worker- a name. How about Maria.

What else can we say about her?

Maria is working as a cleaner, nanny or nurse. Very likely, she has a migration background. She comes from another EU country, or from outside the EU.

We know that more than 30% of registered domestic workers come from outside the EU. Fifteen per cent come from another EU country.

Maria works for a household. She may live in the family home. They may have a good relationship. Or a bad one.

It is likely her employers pay her in cash. It is likely, they have not registered the contract.

There is a very high incidence of informal employment in the domestic work sector. An estimated 70-80% of the jobs in this sector are undeclared.

This means Maria has no written contract. No written clarity about rights and obligations. She is hired to look after the children. But if her employer asks her to also do housework, like cooking or cleaning, it may be difficult for her to refuse.

She does not always have control over her working hours. She might find it difficult to refuse extra requests. She doesn’t benefit from collective bargaining agreements about her salary. And she has no proof of the skills she acquired or recognition of her many years of experience.

Maria doesn’t contribute to social security schemes. Neither does her employer. That also means she is not covered, when she gets old, unemployed, sick or has an accident.    

According to ILO, this is true for 90 per cent of domestic workers worldwide. Who are not covered, or only covered in part.

For domestic workers in Europe, the situation is a bit better.

We know that in France 70 per cent, in Spain 65 per cent and in Italy 45 percent of domestic workers are covered by social security schemes.   

But coverage is still too low. And that’s a problem, because there are real health and safety risks in domestic work.

On average, more people have accidents at home (7.6%), than traffic accidents (1.7%).

Maria could fall down the stairs. Or from a ladder, while cleaning windows.  She could cut or burn herself, while cooking. She could develop back problems, lifting the children.

And only around half of the Member States have occupational safety and health rules in place covering domestic workers.

In 2011 ILO provided a first robust normative framework. That extends labour law rights to domestic workers worldwide.

Namely the Domestic Workers Convention Nr. 189, and the Recommendation on Decent Work for Domestic Workers Nr. 201, which are new international labour standards that set clear obligations for countries to ensure compliance with national laws and regulations regarding domestic work.

Many countries are now adopting the necessary measures to meet their obligations.

And I am proud to point out the Belgian roots, of these policies.

You all know, of course, Sister Jeanne Devos, who worked tirelessly to support the rights of domestic workers in India. She created the National Domestic Workers’ Movement, and campaigned for the ratification of the convention.

I met her just yesterday. She’s an inspiration to us all.

The Commission is also taking steps. To improve protection for all workers, including domestic workers.

To begin with, our new rules on posting of workers will apply. If domestic workers are posted to a different EU country, they must receive the same pay, for the same work, at the same workplace.

We want precarious workers – including domestic workers – to have a set of minimum rights. And to know from day one what their rights and obligations are.

That’s why the Commission launched the proposal for transparent and predictable working conditions. For example:

Minimum predictability of work. Employers should notifyworkers of their working hours. And should give them reasonable advance notice of any changes.

And we know that it’s difficult for households to deal with red tape. So we are making it easier for them to comply with these rules. By exempting them from certain provisions. This way, our proposal will protect tens of thousands domestic workers in Europe.

After our meeting today I will be going to Strasbourg, where the European Parliament will vote on our proposal. If all goes well, our negotiations with Parliament and Council can then begin.  We aim for adoption by February.

So far, about Labour Law.      
Now let me discuss social security.

We want everyone who works – employed, self-employed, – including domestic workers – to have formal and effective access to social security, in exchange for contributions. Which is why we launched a Recommendation on access to social protection.

The cover should be effective. It should be adequate. And important in the new economy: it should be transferable. People should be able to take cover with them if they switch jobs or start running a business, or switch job status.  

We’re also addressing what is perhaps the biggest issue facing domestic workers. That is informal work. Our Platform against Undeclared Work brings together social partners, enforcement authorities and other relevant actors. With the goal to fight undeclared work. Also in the domestic work sector. Where according to Eurofound research, as much as 19% of work is carried out on informal basis.

Now allow me to say something about health and safety in general.

When I started as Commissioner I talked with many people about our health and safety acquis.  

I learned very soon that the biggest problem we face is one of implementation.

Especially for small companies.

So I decided that instead of revising and making new rules, we should focus on implementation. There is no point in making the rule book thicker, if what we have does not translate into reality on the ground.

With one notable exception: legislation on carcinogens. We are banning cancer-causing chemicals. To protect 20 million workers from the biggest killer in the work place:  occupational cancer.

So far, we estimate our measures will  help  save 100,000 lives.

I also want to make sure that the rules we have, can be followed in practice.

Our EU Agency in Bilbao is taking a lot of action, in this area.

By developing online risk assessment tools, and guidance for employers.  
By raising awareness, in campaigns.

And of course, we reconfirmed this in Gothenburg this time last year, when the three political institutions of the European Union proclaimed our European Pillar of Social Rights. The Pillar is our compass to upwards convergence in Europe. And to prepare our people and our rulebook for the new world of work. We made sure that a high level of protection of health and safety at work, is a key principle of the Pillar. The already existing rights are confirmed there.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We are only at the beginning. It will be up to you, today and tomorrow:

To take stock: what needs to be done and what can be done.

To exchange views: what works and what doesn’t.

And to encourage EU Member States to ratify the ILO Domestic Workers Convention No. 189. Because to date, only 6 Member States have ratified it.

Domestic workers take care of our children. Pick them up from school. Cook them dinner and put them to bed.

They look after old or sick relatives. Clothe them, wash them, give them their medicine.

It’s clear that domestic workers take care of us.

It’s our duty, to care about them. And to respect them.

I wish you a very successful conference.