Domestic services now represent eight million jobs in Europe. However, the legal vacuum surrounding these professions threatens “social Europe”, Élisabeth Morin-Chartier and Marie-Béatrice Levaux told EURACTIV France.
The European People’s Party MEP Élisabeth Morin-Chartier is a member of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs at the European Parliament. Marie-Béatrice Levaux is the president of the Federation of Private Employers of France (FEPEM) and an adviser to the Economic, Social and Environmental Council (CESE).
What is domestic employment? What does it represent in the European economy?
Marie-Béatrice Levaux: That’s a question we don’t yet know how to answer at European level. Currently, there is no political strategy among the member states on the issue of domestic employment, which comprises the provision of services, such as housework, childcare and care work. At the moment, it’s not a market but an area where households find solutions. It’s this question of the current situation that we ask in the white paper Employment, Family and Households in the European Union (Emploi, Famille et domicile dans l’Union européenne) whose final version will be published in February 2019. Our immediate task is defining a perimeter.
However, it’s an emerging sector which affects family life and therefore concerns many Europeans. I don’t understand why we aren’t able to mobilise the European institutions more on the subject, while domestic employment represents 18 million potential jobs in Europe.
Élisabeth Morin-Chartier: I believe in domestic employment because the European demographic context, with the general ageing of the population and the increasing rates of women in employment, means that we need effective domestic employment, to support gender equality and to care for ageing populations.
In what way is domestic employment a lever for gender equality?
Morin-Chartier: Because of this key figure: 50% of women with three children work 50% of the time. Domestic employment is therefore a lever for gender equality in the world of work. Another central figure in this debate is that a young woman will re-enter the labour market six months later than her male counterpart and with a 19% lower wage. She is charged for the maternity risk.
What is the current situation of domestic employment in Europe?
Levaux: Today, there is a real cacophony of situations between the various European countries. While there are countries where there is no framework for the domestic employment sector, such as Poland, in the majority of countries the informal economy dominates. And finally, there are a few more advanced states. Only two countries have a collective agreement for domestic employment workers: France and Italy. In France, we are a model of good practice because the state has opted to simplify tax declarations and supplied €4 billion of tax deductions into the sector. As a result, we have moved to there being only 20% undeclared work, compared with over 50% ten years ago.
In Italy, despite a collective agreement being established, the policy of exempting employment tax as well as simplifying tax declaration, which are the structuring pillars in this sector, has not necessarily followed.
Why is harmonising the domestic employment sector desirable in Europe?
Levaux: Taking the domestic employment sector into account is central in order to meet the challenges posed by the ageing population, falling birth rates and also migration. For example, in Italy, the birth rate is very low. How can we re-energise the birth rate by offering solutions which are adapted to the daily lives of households who wish to have a second or a third child? Regarding migration, we have to avoid the pitfall of seeing vulnerable population groups, such as migrant women, being employed in indecent work. There is a real risk that this will happen if politicians do not act to structure the sector.
Morin-Chartier: These domestic jobs are not under-employment, they have to be valued and therefore professionalised, that’s very important. You can’t make up being an assistant to ageing people, you can’t make up being a care worker. These jobs can also contribute to the professional integration of migrants. But today, in the beautiful areas of Paris, there are still cases of indecent work, even of work similar to slavery. We have to draw a line under this.
The domestic employment sector is strongly affected by undeclared work. How can this be addressed?
Levaux: We need to lay the foundations for the status of the domestic employee. We have millions of invisible jobs and workers in Europe. If we do not regulate the sector, there is the risk of a real underground economy developing.
The costs of undeclared work are very high. Bringing this sector into the formal economy is essential to allow states to pay pensions, for example, in the context of declining public expenditure. Our sector is also part of the sectors with a high risk of undeclared work, along with agricultural jobs and in the construction industry. Supervising this is even more complex because the work is carried out in the employers’ homes.
Morin-Chartier: The professionalisation of domestic employment must help to fight against undeclared work and indecent work. Undeclared work can no longer be the rule or at least tolerated in an organised “social Europe”. There is the Geneva convention on the subject. Europe has to lead the fight against indecent and undeclared work. Domestic employment has to be an integral part of building a “social Europe”. This is not the case today.