Homeworkers, whose number has greatly increased because of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, need better protection, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) said in a new report.
Since homeworking occurs in the private sphere, it is often invisible. In low- and middle-income countries, for instance, almost all home-based workers (90%) work informally, the report said.
They are usually worse off than those who work outside the home, even in higher-skilled professions.
Homeworkers earn on average 13% less in the UK, 22% less in the US, 25% less in South Africa, and about 50% less in Argentina, India, and Mexico.
They also face greater safety and health risks and have less access to training than non-home-based workers, which can affect their career prospects.
The report titled "Working from home. From invisibility to decent work" also said homeworkers do not have the same level of social protection as other workers.
They are also less likely to be part of a trade union or be covered by a collective bargaining agreement.
According to ILO estimates, prior to the Covid-19 crisis, there were approximately 260 million home-based workers worldwide, representing 7.9% of global employment while 56% of them (147 million) were women.
They include teleworkers who work remotely on a continual basis, and a vast number of workers who are involved in the production of goods that cannot be automated, such as embroidery, handicrafts, and electronic assembly.
A third category – digital platform workers – provides various services, such as processing insurance claims, copy-editing, or data annotation for the training of artificial intelligence systems.
In the first months of the pandemic last year, an estimated one in five workers found themselves working from home. Data for the whole year of 2020, once available, is expected to show a substantial increase compared to the previous year.
The growth of homeworking is likely to continue in the coming years, the report said, bringing renewed urgency to the need to address the issues faced by homeworkers and their employers.
Poorly regulated with lack of compliance
Homeworking is often poorly regulated and compliance with existing laws remains a challenge.
In many instances, homeworkers are classified as independent contractors and therefore excluded from the scope of labour legislation.
"Only 10 ILO member states have ratified Convention No 177 that promotes equality of treatment between homeworkers and other wage earners, and a few have a comprehensive policy on homework."
"Many countries around the world have legislation, sometimes complemented by collective agreements, that addresses various decent work deficits associated with homework. Nonetheless, only 10 ILO member states have ratified Convention No 177," said Janine Berg, ILO senior economist and one of the report's authors.
The report includes concrete recommendations to make homeworking more visible and thus better protected.
For industrial homeworkers, the report underlined the importance of facilitating their transition to the formal economy by extending legal protections, improving compliance, generalising written contracts, providing access to social security, and making homeworkers aware of their rights.
For home-based, digital platform workers, whose activities raise particular challenges for compliance as they cross multiple borders, the report advocated the use of data generated by their work to monitor working conditions and tools to set fair wages.
For teleworkers, the report called 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.
Homeworking is likely to take on greater importance in the years to come, the report said.
It added that governments, in cooperation with workers' and employers' organisations, should work together to ensure that all homeworkers – whether they are weaving rattan in Indonesia, making shea butter in Ghana, tagging photos in Egypt, sewing masks in Uruguay, or teleworking in France – move from invisibility to decent work.