Gender equality, human rights and right to care

PSI co-sponsored a parallel event to the UNCSW67 with OXFAM on “Gender Equality, Human Rights and The Right to Care”. PSI World Women's Committee Chair, Irene Khumalo spoke on the recognition of the human right to care and care as a public good

How care workers' individual and collective rights could be framed into the recognition of the human right to care and care as a public good?

Irene Khumalo

PSI and its World Women's Committee have been the driving force behind a paradigm change that has just been rooted and has undoubtedly made considerable progress.

Shifting the course and discourse on care from an economic approach based on care as a commodity and a service for profit to the positioning of care as a universal human right, is now part of the global debate.

Public Services International (PSI) with sister global organisations focused on shifting approaches to care away from the dominant approach (the ‘care economy’) to the social organisation of care, and call for action to ‘rebuild the social organisation of care’ to a new model that puts caring for people over caring for profits.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has previously put forward a ‘5R Framework’ to address the failures in care and to ensure decent care work.

The ILO framework has been strengthened and advanced by PSI in its new agenda. In 2020, on the Global Day of Action for Care, PSI called for the 5Rs as a way forward to rebuild the social organisation of care.

1.       Recognise the social and economic value of care work (paid or unpaid) and the human right to care.

2.       Reward, remunerate and represent care work and care workers with professionalised work, equal pay for work of equal value, adequate pensions, comprehensive social protection, healthy and safe working conditions, strong representation, unionisation, and collective bargaining and social dialogue in line with the ILO Decent Work Agenda.

3.       Reduce the burden of unpaid care work on women.

4.       Redistribute care work within households, among all workers, eliminating the sexual division of labour, and between households and State.

5.       Reclaim the public nature of care services and restore the duty and the primary responsibility of the State to provide public care services and develop care systems that transform gender relations and women’s lives – including the State’s financing capacity to invest through fair and progressive taxation.

The recognition of the human right to care and care as a public good is the basis for framing the care discussion and raising the critical role of the State in making citizens experience this right.

The main consideration will then be to redistribute care work, not only inside the families but also from families to the public services, making sure that the State avails quality public services that are universal, affordable and accessible to all.

That is the main transformation, that is why we are talking about, defeminization and defamiliarization

This means transforming and building public care systems where unions need to fight for decent work for paid care workers, in line with the ILO Decent Work Agenda. making it a States’ obligation.

Commodification, underfunding and weak regulation of the care sector means that most work is precarious. Social care and health care workers are increasingly hired on fixed-term, temporary, agency, part-time and self-employed contracts. This has been accompanied by a rise in outsourcing, subcontracting and the role of intermediary labour agencies that ‘supply’ care workers. In some countries, the use of ‘zero-hour’ contracts (contracts with no guarantee of minimum working hours) have become commonplace. These types of contracts mean unpredictable and insufficient hours of work, job insecurity, lower pay, and gaps in social and labour protections that is contrary to the decent work agenda.

Across the Global South, where care work is paid and not undertaken in family or community settings, it is highly informal. As private care services become unaffordable and public care service provision fails and the public suffers.

That is why we need to organise, unionise and be a collective voice.  Formal unions and other care workers’ organisations need to unite and fight for the right to care because this will also mean fighting for the right for decent work for all.