Providing social protection to domestic workers for inequality reduction and poverty eradication

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Ms Sophoan is a domestic worker from rural poor family who is now living in Phnom Penh. Her earnings from this work represent the main income in her family with three children. However, these earnings stopped when she forced herself to take a break from physically demanding work due to unbearable pain at her third child 8 months pregnancy. What should have been a joyful time turned her very vulnerable as she was unable to pay for essential food, housing or medical costs. Under pressures, Sophoan moved in with her elderly mother, also a domestic worker, for support only to worsen the situation. After the delivery, Sophoan needed to go back to work prematurely as she had to care for her mother and newborn baby, while paying back the loan of her birth costs.

Stories like Sophoan’s happen every day in Cambodia. In general, domestic workers, mostly women, are the most vulnerable among other workers in term of living and working conditions. They have limited freedom of movement and association, low wages, no definitive employment contracts, or face overtime, inadequate labour, physical and sexual abuses or trafficking risk, in the worst-case scenario.

In addition, the absence of income security during the final stages of pregnancy and after childbirth forces many domestic workers and other women in the informal economy, to keep working into the very late stages of pregnancy and/or to return to work prematurely, thereby exposing themselves and their children to significant health risks. According to ILO, 77% of female informal workers find themselves highly vulnerable at a time when they should be taking care of their newborn babies and enjoying a unique time in their lives.

The domestic employment is an important part of the informal labour sector, covering a total of 67.1 million workers globally, 83 percent of which are women. According to ILO, the informal economy accounts for more than half of the global labour force. This is also a reality for Cambodia. ILO’s 2018 research estimated there are approximately 240,000 domestic workers, whose income generations contribute an important economic proportion to Cambodian households’ revenues therefore playing a part in poverty eradication. But without having equal access to needed adequate social protection services, these workers, women in particular, will run the risk of being trapped in great poverty.

Oxfam believes that the extension of social protection coverage to those in the informal economy and facilitating their transition to the formal economy are key to promoting decent work and preventing poverty, while reducing inequality.

Oxfam wish to acknowledge the successful effort by Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC), prioritising social protection norms and practices as part of its national development objectives. For instance, RGC has introduced the National Social Protection Policy Framework (SPPF), and is implementing the National Social Security Fund (NSSF). In parallel, the Ministry of Labour Vocational Training (MoLVT) also gave a priority focus on the domestic employment by executing a Prakas dated May 2018, regulating requirements for working conditions of domestic workers, to which Oxfam and partners have been a key contributors. In the same context, the RGC, together with its development partners have considered to extend the coverage of SPPF and NSSF to the informal economy, piloting with domestic workers, transport services and construction workers.

However, in many lower middle-income countries, effective social protection provision remains a key challenge, placing informal workers at risk of exclusion from social protection coverage. Recognising the importance of realising inclusive development, ILO, through the adoption of Convention 189, recognised domestic workers' rights as other workers, who are entitled to decent work.

On the occasion of the International Domestic Workers Day 16 June, Oxfam and partners commemorate the domestic employment and the social and economic values it brings among all Cambodian families and communities. Let us use this opportunity to advocate for a greater recognition of social and economic needs of the domestic employment and its continuous contribution to the Cambodian society. Domestic labours are of equal value as other types of labours and therefore deserve equal access rights to social protection system and services, freedom of association so that they too can enjoy the same benefits as other workers do in Cambodia.

Oxfam and partners urges RGC to ratify the ILO Convention 189 and take necessary steps to support national implementation. Investing in care services for women as well as social protection for domestic workers would mean that Cambodia invests in their potentials to help advance Cambodia’s economy and ambition to become an upper middle-income country by 2030 and a high-income country by 2050.

Going forward, Oxfam and partners stand ready to support and work in close cooperation with the RGC in realising its social protection goals, while continuing to work in collaboration with, key development players and other relevant stakeholders, to pursue its support in needed and favourable policies in support those times in all Cambodian workers’ life when they shouldn’t work, due to illness or pregnancy, so that Sophoan and other domestic workers can enjoy access to quality maternal and child health care, while maintaining income security for their families, and stopping the suffering from poverty.

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