Interview of M. Cyril Cosme, Director of the ILO Office to France, and Mrs. Marie Béatrice Levaux, President of the European Federation for Family Employment (EFFE).
The ILO celebrates its 100th anniversary this year and reminds to this occasion how the progress of social justice and the promotion of decent working conditions are at the heart of its purpose. Those values have also been intensely advocated for by EFFE, through its European White Paper “Home, family employment and home care in the EU: 10 proposals for an inclusive and social Europe for domestic workers and employers”, which it has already carried through to the new European Parliament.
How can the ILO take action to reinforce the structure of home employment model?
CC: Decent work and social justice are a part of our duty and mandate which have been defined at the ILO foundation back in 1919. To ensure its right implementation, the ILO’s founding charter put through a new international setup aiming at adopting and enforcing legally binding norms such as the ILO international convention ratified by the States and that allows both to create basic social rules e.g. guaranteeing economically loyal competition sets between the States as well as norms legally defining what decent work is. Today these conventions cover all various aspects of working relations and collective bargaining issues. They focus on specific sectors such as domestic work – as shown by the 189th ILO Convention on domestic workers.
With regard to domestic work’s specificity it seemed important to get such a convention, for domestic jobs do not benefit from any framework of social rules in many countries. I am not even talking about France here, as France has precisely been a pattern to look up to in that negotiation as French collective bargaining has efficiently transformed the share of informal undeclared jobs into common law, formal, labour law compliant jobs – most especially with regard to equality between workers no matter what field of activity they are involved in.
Besides its law-inducing ability the ILO also supports States in their correct enforcement of social protection norms, labour law improvement or creation of social dialogue structures – most especially developing countries in Asia, Africa or Latin-American countries. Countries are endowed with a coercive power to ensure compliance to the norms of the ILO.
MBL: An organization that aims internationally to regulate labour law and even out its rules is a real chance for domestic employment – a sector that exists all over the world but with unequal legislation and protection rules. In fact, only an organization acknowledged by most States will be entitled to foster good practices among all countries, in order to ensure recognition of the rights and duties of both domestic employers and workers. EFFE is there to help Brussels structure the sector at European level – making up about 4% of European jobs and entailing a huge growth potential of 18 million declared jobs. Though we are obviously mainly active at EU level EFFE also aims to get through an organization such as the ILO, so that other countries can seize this essential issue for the daily life of the citizens from all over the world.
EFFE’s White Paper suggests a series of ten measures to improve the recognition of this sector at European level and the structuring of the domestic employment relationship between employer and worker. It most notably gathered support from the ILO Brussels office. According to you how does this document relate to the work of the ILO seeking to bring out the private employer-specific model but also for domestic workers in Europe?
CC: I believe that the interest perceived by the ILO in this document is to encourage greater diversity today in the labour market. The history of the private employer in France and in Europe shows that we do not rely upon a single model of employment but rather on a very wide range of them. The challenge of the future of work is to make different models coexist, including that of the private employer, and to see how, through these different models put side by side, workers will be granted an easier access to universal and quality rights as far as possible.
EFFE’s work echoes an innovative voice for access to decent work based on home employment sector’s special features and on a model that has made it possible to move from what was the prototype of informal and precarious employment to a recognized and quality job endowed with rights and an efficient social dialogue.
MBL: EFFE and the ILO share common values: promotion of decent work, vector of social and economic integration, enhancement of training and skills for fulfilling and well-paid jobs, social progress with protection and women’s access to the labour market.
Our proposals show how concretely these values can be embodied in the daily lives of European citizens. For example, by facilitating declarative procedures for the individual employer through digitization and by creating an incentive tax framework in the European states, it is possible to fight effectively against undeclared employment. This means on the long run, more tax revenue and therefore more social protection for employees. It also means a sustainable cost for the individual employer, more hiring procedures and therefore increased employment for low-skilled people. Such a virtuous circle can definitely be put in place, so why not go for it?
Most political parties have committed themselves to consolidating the European Pillar of Social Rights announced in November 2017 as part of the campaign for the European elections. In the aftermath of the election results, would you consider possible that the newly elected European Parliament could throw a significant impulse in favour of domestic workers’ rights?
CC: I couldn’t tell you much about the European Pillar of Social Rights as the ILO was not really involved in it. But the ILO looks very closely to the latest developments occurring in Europe because the ILO is very much influenced by the European history of social relations. Since the 2000s, there is substantial research, a introspection as per the evolution of this European social model, so the EPSR can only have an impact on the debate and conventions which were mostly adopted many years ago by European countries and strongly influenced by the European Parliament. Some countries are at the forefront of developments and changes in work, but we always have a point of vigilance to ensure that fundamental conventions find their right place into the EU law. Even if over the past 15 years some evolution of European countries may cause concern, with a reduction in the coverage of collective agreements, or some form of weakening of trade union organizations – and we are obviously watching this very closely and thoroughly – Europe yet remains a continent in which the three-parties and social dialogues values remain very strong.
MBL: We rely heavily on the renewal of Parliament to get things moving. New members must seize a useful subject in the daily lives of millions of European households by adhering to the proposals of our White Paper. Home care is an essential answer to the major challenges that are expected to arise in the upcoming decade: global ageing, as 25% of the European population who will be aged 65 or over by 2035; women’s participation to the labour market, work-life balance, birth rate supports or integration of migrant populations through decent social rights’ providing jobs. There is a handful of jobs with high social utility that we can easily take advantage of.
With the gig economy spreading across all sectors, we are at a turning point in labour law. Action is urgently needed to prevent the installation of an underground system where domestic workers would be forced to put up with indecent working conditions, too much work flexibility and therefore job insecurity. We have the opportunity to act to create a virtuous ecosystem instead, based upon the employer’s responsibility towards his employee –putting social rights, professionalization and skills’ development at the heart of this model.