India needs to have a strategy and action plan for Care work Economy
- Greater investment in care services can create an additional 300 million jobs globally, many of which will be for women.
- This will help increase female labour force participation and advance Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 8.
- Care work is defined broadly as work and relationships that are necessary for the health, welfare, maintenance and protection of all people – young and old, able-bodied, disabled, and frail.
- This definition may seem broad – but care– at its core is a very basic human need and a necessity.
- Whether we know it or now, we all participate in providing care work – paid or unpaid, and in receiving care every day.
- Every year, March 8 is celebrated as International Women’s Day. The immense contribution of women to all spheres of life is often overlooked, unfairly valued, and hardly rewarded.
- Care work encompasses direct activities such as feeding a baby or nursing an ill partner, and indirect care activities such as cooking and cleaning’. Whether paid or unpaid, direct or indirect, care work is vital for human well-being and economies.
- Unpaid care work is linked to labour market inequalities, yet it has yet to receive adequate attention in policy formulation.
- Paid care workers, such as domestic workers and anganwadis in India, also struggle to access rights and entitlements as workers.
ILO and care work
- The importance of care work is now widely acknowledged and covered in various international commitments such as the SDGs and the International Labour Organization (ILO)’s Centenary Declaration.
- Since March 2020, the demand for care services has skyrocketed.
- However, the investment in the care economy has not matched the pace.
- This year, to commemorate International Women’s Day, the ILO brought out its new report titled, ‘Care at work: Investing in care leave and services for a more gender-equal world of work’.
- The ILO is the only tripartite UN agency, which brings together governments, employers, and workers of 187 member States, to set labour standards, develop policies and devise programmes promoting decent work for all women and men.
Benefits down the line
- The report highlights the importance of maternity, paternity, and special care leave, which help balance women’s and men’s work and family responsibilities throughout their lives.
- It demonstrates that workplaces that provide time, income security and space for undertaking care services such as breastfeeding, enable positive nutrition and health outcomes.
- Bridging the gaps in current policies and service provisions to nurture childcare and elderly care services will deliver the benefits of child development, ageing in dignity and independent living as the population grows older and also generate more and better employment opportunities, especially for women.
Maternity leave, child care
- Maternity leave is a universal human and labour right. Yet, it remains unfulfilled across countries, leaving millions of workers with family responsibilities without adequate protection and support.
- India fares better than its peers in offering 26 weeks of maternity leave, against the ILO’s standard mandate of 14 weeks that exists in 120 countries.
- However, this coverage extends to only a tiny proportion of women workers in formal employment in India, where 89% of employed women are in informal employment
- While paternity leave is recognised as an enabler for both mothers and fathers to better balance work and family responsibilities, it is not provided in many countries, including India.
- Globally, the average paternity leave is nine days, which further exacerbates inequity.
- Access to quality and affordable care services such as childcare, elderly care and care for people with disabilities is a challenge workers with family responsibilities face globally.
- There is scope for improvement in availability, accessibility, affordability and quality.
- Working conditions of care workers are another critical gap to address.
- Though childcare and Anganwadi workers undertake important work, and childcare is recognised as professional work in advanced countries, they lack recognition as workers and do not have requisite access to workers’ rights and entitlements in India.
- Increase the share of GDP: India spends less than 1% of its GDP on the care economy; increasing this percentage would unfurl a plethora of benefits for workers and the overall economy.
- A comprehensive strategy: Therefore, in consultation with employers’ and workers’ organisations and the relevant stakeholders, the Government needs to conceptualise a strategy and action plan for improved care policies, care service provisions and decent working conditions for care workers.
- 5R framework: The ILO proposes a 5R framework for decent care work centred around achieving gender equality.
- The framework urges the Recognition, Reduction, and Redistribution of unpaid care work to promote Rewarding care workers with more decent work, and enables their Representation in social dialogue and collective bargaining.
- Care work should be viewed as a collective responsibility and public good.
- A human-centred and inclusive recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic that benefits workers, employers, and the government, requires a more significant investment in and commitment to supporting the care economy, which cares for the society at large.
Prelims take away
- Care economy
Q. What constitutes unpaid work? Is it a woman’s responsibility or economic activity? Analyse and explain how it is distributed in our present society.