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Rights to social protection: domestic workers are no exception

A communications campaign to enrol more domestic workers in Paraguay with social security is showing the first signs of success.

Feature | 06 May 2014
Librada Maciel, on the right
ASUNCION (ILO News) – Librada Maciel has been working for 20 years as a domestic worker in the region of Itapúa, a rural area in Southern Paraguay. “I took this job because I had no choice,” she explained.

“I come from a poor family. We were 16 children at home living in the countryside. Our only option was to go to the nearest city and find the only job offered, and that meant becoming a domestic worker.”

Our only option was to go to the nearest city and find the only job offered, and that meant becoming a domestic worker"
Like most domestic workers in Paraguay, Librada Maciel worked between 12 and 14 hours a day, without being covered by any kind of social protection.

A law passed in 1967 made it compulsory for all domestic workers in Asunción, the capital of the country, to register with social security. It was even extended to the whole country in 2009 but it was rarely applied.

Social security for domestic workers in Paraguay is in practice a health insurance that includes maternal protection, and also provides health insurance to dependents such as children, spouse, and parents. Until now, domestic workers were not entitled to retirement protection like other workers, even though in theory it is possible for them to register as self-employed.

A new law which is currently being discussed should make it possible for them to acquire pension rights in line with the ILO’s Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189). Paraguay was the fourth country in South America to ratify the Convention in May 2013. The ILO Convention is considered as a major step forward in improving working and living conditions for domestic workers around the globe.

However, the reality is that so far just over 10 per cent of domestic workers are registered with the Instituto de Previsión Social (IPS), the government agency in charge of social security.

Promoting social security for all domestic workers

This was the main reason to set up a campaign to encourage more domestic workers to join the social security system.

Over the last years, however, things started to change slowly.

Domestic workers like Librada Maciel became aware of their rights through a skills-training course implemented by Programa Oportunidades with ILO support. Later, she became the secretary-general of the domestic workers’ union in Itapúa. On top of her union activities, she still works a couple of hours a week in several homes but does not stay with one single employer as it’s difficult to reconcile her union work with a fulltime paid job.

Together with representatives from the government, employers’ and workers’ organizations, Librada Maciel has been working on a major push to promote the registration of domestic workers in Paraguay. The campaign, which was launched in December 2013 and lasted until June this year, benefited from the ILO’s technical support.

Social protection is a fundamental human right. However, in Paraguay, social coverage for workers has been historically low" IPS's president, Hugo Royg
“Social protection is a fundamental human right. However, in Paraguay, social coverage for workers has been historically low, particularly for the most vulnerable categories,” explained IPS’s president Hugo Royg.

“Registering with social security is important, not only for domestic workers themselves but also for their children and dependent family members who can also benefit from social protection through them. So having them register is also a way to fight poverty and inequalities,” he added.

According to an ILO study quoting figures from 2010, nearly 220, 000 paid domestic workers are registered in Paraguay, more than 90 per cent of them being women and working in a single household for one employer but just 20 per cent of them are “live in” workers at the moment. Domestic work is also the third biggest job opportunity for women in Paraguay -- after self-employed jobs and private sector positions.

Spreading the message widely

The campaign targeted urban and rural areas. Advocacy materials were available in both Spanish and Guarani, which is widely spoken throughout the country, especially in rural areas. Messages were widely shared on radio, TV as well as the web page for IPS. Posters were used strategically in public places such as transport hubs and social and health centres.

Messages were adapted to the different types of audience. For instance, some slogans were aimed at domestic workers and others were targeted to their employers, reminding them of their legal obligation to register their domestic worker with the social security scheme. They also highlighted the role of IPS in the registration process and ensuring the application of the law.

“This campaign is a very positive step towards decent work for domestic workers in Paraguay. It is the result of an extensive and fructuous dialogue between the government and the social partners,” says Ana Maria Ortiz, President of the employers’ organization APEP.

“In the end, what is good for domestic workers is also good for their employers, and it also boosts the economy,” she adds.

The first results of the campaign show that the number of domestic workers registered with IPS rose by 8.7 per cent, which exceeded our objective of a 5 per cent increase,” said Hugo Royg.

More activities are still being launched, including a new TV show produced by IPS which is broadcast from Monday to Friday on Paraguay’s public television channel. An agreement has also been signed with the Ministry of Education and Culture to conduct sensitization campaigns in schools.

Librada Maciel still sees a need for more labour inspections and penalties to be imposed on those employers who still do not register their employees. Now that her country has ratified ILO Convention 189, she hopes that a new labour law will give even more rights for domestic workers.

“The ILO fully supported this campaign initiated by the social partners by providing figures on the number and working conditions of domestic workers in the country, and by helping with the messaging,” said Gerhard Reinecke, Senior Employment officer at the ILO sub-regional Office in Santiago.

“The campaign helped a lot in making domestic workers more aware of their rights to social protection. Obviously, the ratification by Paraguay of ILO Convention 189 was a significant step. However, more still needs to be done to put rights into practice and further improve working conditions, especially in terms of salaries and social protection,” he concluded.