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One in five domestic workers lost their jobs in the pandemic, in Ecuador women were hit the hardest

Published on June 21, 2021

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This sector was as affected as the hotel industry, indicates a report on Latin America by ECLAC and ILO

The National Union of Domestic Workers reports that six out of eight women who lost their jobs in the pandemic have been resuming their activities, but several no longer have Social Security affiliation.

Domestic work is one of the occupations most affected by the pandemic. The closure of companies caused the loss of employment of one in ten employers in the countries of the region. And the scenario in domestic service was worse: one in five paid domestic workers was left without a job.

The data is part of the latest Labor Situation report prepared by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the International Labor Organization (ILO), which shows how “all the countries of the region suffered an unprecedented negative impact. The regional GDP registered a contraction of 7.1%, the highest in the last century.” The regional unemployment rate increased 2.1% and reached 10.5% on average. In other words, “it exceeded double digits in 2020 for the first time in more than a decade.”

The contraction of domestic service—which represents a high level of female employment—runs up against that other negative effect of the health crisis that the report cites: the greater impact it had on female employment and participation, “which is a great setback with respect to the progress observed in women’s labor participation.”

Between 2019 and 2020, the workforce contracted by 5% among men and 8.1% among women, while employment rates contracted by 7.2% among men and 10.2% among women.

This scenario in the region was more negative in Ecuador, according to the General Secretary of the National Union of Domestic and Related Workers (Untha), Lenny Quiroz. “Out of ten women, eight were unemployed.” Although, as activities were resumed, he now estimates that of those eight workers in his sector who went into unemployment during the pandemic, six have been resuming their work activity, but without social security, less than eight hours of work and lower wages.

This union of domestic workers—which has 300 members nationwide—hopes that the inter-institutional attention of which they are part will remain active and the new Government will also sign the act of commitment to analyze the situation in the sector.

A difference of this crisis with respect to previous episodes of regional economic contraction is that this time the destruction of non-salaried jobs was proportionally more significant than that observed at the level of salaried employment. In other words, non-salaried employment did not serve as a buffer against the loss of salaried jobs. Even the destruction of employment was deeper in informal employment than in formal employment, especially at the beginning of the pandemic. The relatively greater impact on informal employment is due, in large part, to the fact that formal employment benefited from public policies aimed at protecting the employment relationship, such as suspensions or reductions in working hours combined with state subsidies or unemployment insurance benefits in some countries.

And as for the branches of activity, the greatest impact was in the economic sectors most affected by the decline in economic activity and the measures to confine or limit face-to-face work.

The contraction in employment in 2020 was much deeper in sectors such as hotels (19.2%), construction (11.7%), commerce (10.8%) and transport (9.2%), which together concentrate close to 40% of regional employment. Industry (8.6%) and other services (7.5%) also registered contractions, while in agriculture the loss of jobs was comparatively lower (2.4%).

“Although the dynamics of generalized job losses by branches of activity is new compared to other crises, in which the negative effects were more focused on a few sectors, the intensity of the impact in sectors such as the hotel industry, in which almost one of the every five jobs was lost, highlights the difficulties that the transition to the post-pandemic will imply for the recovery of employment in sectors highly affected by the confinement measures and the reduction in demand,” indicates the report that includes recommendations.

According to INEC, women are the most affected by unemployment in Ecuador

The biggest hit of unemployment, for both genders, is focused on people between 25 and 34 years old, according to data from last December.

In December of 2020, there are 401,305 unemployed Ecuadorians, or 5% of the Economically Active Population. The majority of this group was women.

They were at an unemployment rate of 6.7% compared to 3.7% for men, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Censuses (INEC), which published these figures in late May of this year. This was still much improved over the 15% unemployment rate for women in June of 2020. Another important figure released by INEC was that men were being paid on average $309.90 per month compared to the average of $262.60 for women.

The biggest hit of unemployment, for both genders, was for people between 25 and 34 years old, according to data from last December.

Elena for example is a 27-years-old woman who was fired from a private company in April 2020, and with her liquidation she tried various ways to generate income.

First, she offered sweets such as corn cakes and alfajores, together with her mother, which lasted a few weeks due to low demand. She also tried to sell bracelets, but that didn’t work either.

In desperation, she decided to travel to the United States and work as a nanny for four months. The pressure to help her mother led her to make that decision.

She recently returned to the country and ran into the same problem she had when she left: the lack of employment opportunities for women that has been accentuated by the pandemic.

“Every day I sent my resume to different ads, but nothing came out. And when I came back from the United States, that reality of unemployment hits you and it’s hard because you have to figure out how to have an income,” says Elena.

Mónica Larrea, specialist in international business, says that this group of people are the most affected by unemployment, with a greater emphasis on women due to a possible lack of productivity because of family responsibilities or the prejudice of not hiring women with children.

“It is that women in the labor field are not only workers, but often mothers of the family and within companies, they prioritize when selecting personnel because they say that women are going to ask for permission to leave because their children get sick… especially now with teleworking, attending virtual classes, mothers are the ones who have been most aware of this situation and possibly this lack of productivity is perceived by employers,”  she explained.

Economist Héctor Delgado, says another reason is the Latin American culture of seeing women at home and not at work, although he says that little by little this is changing. He also attributes this difference to the fact that some companies are looking for people who give more.

“All the crises have made companies have to reinvent themselves in the sense that they require a little more effort. If you did an activity before, now you will have to do one and a half. Unfortunately, in Ecuador, there is a lot of difference between men and women, and they tend to prefer men,” he says.

Delgado says that to change this, structural changes are required such as government and corporate policies.

Larrea offered three solutions: first, for the Government to give tax benefits to companies for hiring women; second, that companies establish an organizational culture that, for example, pays the same salary for a job whether it is a man or a woman; and third, for the academy to prioritize female training in all areas.

How Ecuador can recover and generate better quality jobs

The experts agree that new policies need to be put in place to help the country recover from the impact of the pandemic on what was already a weak economy. Among their suggestions are:

  • Instruments such as unemployment insurance, together with training and job intermediation policies, are very important to, on the one hand, sustain the income of the unemployed and, on the other, facilitate the return to the labor market of people who are out of the work force or unemployed.
  • Promote public and private investment with high labor intensity, especially in the most affected sectors in each country, so that the reactivation of the productive fabric in these sectors accelerates the demand for employment at the sectoral level.
  • Support socio-labor policies that guarantee workers’ social protection and income policies for the informal and their families during the following waves of the pandemic and in the post-pandemic.
  • To recover the pre-pandemic female labor dynamics, prioritize the measures that strengthen the policies and institutions of the care systems, both in terms of education and health. The structural reasons that place the greatest weight on women caring for the elderly, children and the sick would have been exacerbated during the pandemic.

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