COVID-19 put spotlight on poor working conditions for homeworkers

Saleha Riaz
In higher-skilled professions, homeworkers earn on average 13% less in the UK. Photo: Getty
In higher-skilled professions, homeworkers earn on average 13% less in the UK. Photo: Getty

The increase in working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the poor working conditions experienced by many homeworkers, the International Labour Organization (ILO) said, and called for their better protection.

In the first months of the pandemic last year, an estimated one-in-five workers found themselves working from home, a report by the ILO found. It estimates that prior to the crisis, homeworkers numbered around 260 million people worldwide, representing 7.9% of global employment.

Homeworking is often poorly regulated and compliance with existing laws remains a challenge, the report said. In some instances, homeworkers are classified as independent contractors and excluded from the scope of labour legislation.

Those who work from home also face greater safety and health risks and have less access to training, which can affect their career prospects.

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For home-based, digital platform workers, whose activities raise challenges for compliance as they cross multiple borders, the report advocates the use of data generated by their work to monitor working conditions and tools to set fair wages.

And for teleworkers, the report calls on policymakers to put in place specific actions to mitigate psychosocial risks and introduce a “right to disconnect,” to ensure respect for the boundaries between working life and private life.

The report also pointed out that in higher-skilled professions, homeworkers earn on average 13% less in the UK. In the US, it is 22% less and in South Africa it is 25% less.

Another concern was that homeworkers do not have the same level of social protection as other workers. They are less likely to be part of a trade union or to be covered by a collective bargaining agreement.

The growth of homeworking is likely to continue in the coming years, the report says, bringing renewed urgency to the need to address the issues facing homeworkers and their employers.

“Only 10 ILO Member States have ratified Convention No. 177, that promotes equality of treatment between homeworkers and other wage earners, and few have a comprehensive policy on homework,” said Janine Berg, ILO senior economist. The UK is one of them.

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