Dignify and recognise care work as the cornerstone of life

Care is a universal matter and must be recognized as a fundamental right: the right to care, to be cared for and to take care of oneself. Acknowledging and protecting the rights of care workers must be a top priority.

“I should have returned home on 21st March [2020]. However, I had to stay. It was very difficult for me because I never had a break. And these breaks are crucial! I left my client’s house at night to get some fresh air. I worked 3.5 months in a row during the lockdown. I also had problems with my agency then. They never called me and cut my earnings. Then, I collapsed and had to see a doctor.” Eszter, care worker from Romania

Take Eszter, for example, a care worker from Romania. During the lockdown in 2020, she found herself working relentlessly without breaks, facing difficulties with her agency, and experiencing health problems as a result of overwork. Her story is just one of many that highlight the challenges and injustices faced by migrant care workers in the EU.

Migrant laborers within the EU are disproportionately susceptible to exploitation and mistreatment in various sectors such as agriculture, food processing, manufacturing, and hospitality. The care sector is no exception. The risk of exploitation in domestic work is particularly high due to its invisibility, as it often occurs in private homes.This vulnerability encompasses not only those with irregular migration status but also intra-EU migrants, legally residing non-EU migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, and international students. Poor monitoring and oversight by authorities have exacerbated the challenges faced by care workers and recipients, leading to a 'low-investment - low-access - low-quality' care model. Care workers often find themselves in precarious employment situations, with low wages, part-time hours, and temporary contracts.

Guaranteeing social protection rights, including access to social security, healthcare, and retirement benefits, is essential for ensuring the well-being and security of all individuals, especially vulnerable populations such as migrant workers. These protections help safeguard against poverty and inequality, providing a safety net that supports economic stability and social cohesion. Additionally, ensuring comprehensive social protection can enhance public health outcomes and promote a more inclusive and equitable society.

In February 2022, the Court of Justice of the EU declared the exclusion of domestic workers from social security benefits discriminatory due to its disproportionate impact on women.

Those in personal care within health services frequently work non-standard hours. Access to social security is often insufficient, especially for domestic care workers, who are predominantly women. 

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), about 73 %, worldwide – approximately 8.5 million – of all migrant domestic workers are women. Northern, southern and Western Europe host 22 %

In Germany and Malta over 80 % of domestic workers are  women, in Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Portugal and Spain the figures are even higher – over 90 %. Similar numbers hold true for Italy as well. In addition, countries without reliable data reporting state that domestic care workers are mostly women. These findings can certainly be applied to the subgroup of domestic 24-hour care workers. 

To create an overview on the EU picture of the undeclared work is worthy to pay attention to some relevant figures. In 2019, 11.1% of the total labor input in the EU's private sector was undeclared, almost invariably since 2013 (11.6%). Undeclared work accounted for 14.8% of gross value added (GVA) in the private sector, a decrease from 16.4% in 2013. These figures are unweighted averages and do not consider the relative size of the labor force in each Member State (considering the weighted values, the figures change to 9.7% and 14.6%, respectively(Horodnic & Williams, 2019)

What is in fact ‘Decent work’? 

The ILO's Decent Work Agenda is a balanced and integrated programmatic approach to pursue the objectives of full and productive employment, and decent work, for all women and men by 2030. It has four pillars: standards and rights at work, employment creation and enterprise development, social protection and social dialogue.

- The elements of decent work are: job creation, rights at work (including minimum wage), social protection, and social dialogue.

- The rights at work include the right to just and favorable conditions, days off, 8-hour days, non-discrimination and living wages for them and their families, among others.

- Social protection includes safe working conditions, adequate free time and rest, access to benefits like healthcare, pension, and parental leave, among many others.

- Social dialogue refers to workers' ability to exercise workplace democracy through their unions and negotiate their workplace.

Decent work is a cornerstone of any just society, and care workers deserve nothing less. Regardless of their administrative status, care and domestic workers should be afforded equal rights and opportunities, including pay equity. Specific protections must be established for care workers, such as safeguards against discrimination and access to maternity leave and childcare benefits. Moreover, the time spent in care activities should count towards pension rights, irrespective of legal status. Ratifying and implementing the International Labour Organization's Convention 189 is a crucial step towards ensuring fair and acceptable working conditions for domestic workers. Germany, Belgium, Finland, Italy, Ireland, Portugal and Sweden are the EU-27 countries that have ratified the Convention, as well as Spain, the last one to join the list in 2023.

While the gender gap in employment of the native population has been decreasing across Europe from 16 to 11 percentage points between 2005 and 2020, it has remained steady at around 18 percentage points among immigrants for a decade. Immigrant women are 19 % less likely than native women to have a job, while immigrant men are 7 % less likely than native men to have a job. In addition, immigrant women are disproportionately more likely than both immigrant men and native women to earn very little money. Across Europe, 49 % of immigrant women are in the three lowest income deciles, with a large majority in elementary occupations such as cleaning jobs. (“Better Jobs for Migrant Women | D+c - Development + Cooperation” (2024)

Turn care into a universal right: TO CARE FOR SOMEONE and TO BE THE SUBJECT OF CARE!

As we strive for a fairer and more equitable Europe, it is imperative that we heed the calls of feminist movements and prioritize the transformation of care work. By dignifying and recognizing care as the cornerstone of life, we can build a society that values compassion, nurturance, and equality for all. Let us commit to turning feminist visions into legislative initiatives, creating a future where care is not only respected but cherished as a fundamental human right.

As feminists committed to justice and equality, we must champion key claims and transform them into tangible legislative initiatives:

**Care is a Public Matter!**

Let's advocate for the creation of a European Public Care system that meets the universal need for care. This system must ensure access to high-quality, publicly funded services, particularly for migrant and marginalized individuals, regardless of their country of origin or social status.

This involves promoting a non-profit, relationship-centered care model that upholds the dignity of both caregivers and recipients. It means rejecting the privatization of care services and combating the dehumanizing effects of technology-driven platforms in home care. Instead, technology should enhance, not erode, interpersonal relationships in caregiving.

A potential solution to address the issue of the "uberization of care work" is to regulate and humanize platform-based care services. This would involve implementing policies that ensure direct interaction between employers and care workers, fostering personal relationships and mutual respect. By requiring platforms to facilitate and prioritize human connections rather than treating care workers as interchangeable commodities, we can promote a more dignified and ethical approach to care work. 

**Care is a Universal Right!**

We call for the recognition of care as a universal right: the right to care for someone and the right to be cared for. By building on the European Care Strategy, we can promote a non-profit, relationship-centered care model that resists privatization and preserves public services. We must halt the "uberization" of home care services that depersonalize and dehumanize the caregiver-employer relationship. Technology should support and simplify care work, not undermine essential human connections.

**Care Work Must Be Decent Work!**

Join us in demanding the recognition of care and domestic workers' rights, regardless of their administrative status, gender, ethnicity, religion, political choice, or citizenship. It is imperative to set standards for fair wages, job security, and social protections will help protect care workers' rights and well-being.

We must ensure equal opportunities and pay equity for all. This includes specific rights such as treatment for professional diseases, regulation of live-in domestic workers' hours, protection against discrimination, maternity leave protections, and access to childcare benefits. We must also recognize care work for pension rights, regardless of workers' legal status.

It's time to ratify and implement the ILO’s Convention 189 to secure fair and dignified working conditions for all domestic workers. Together, we can create a more just and equitable society by elevating care work to its rightful place as the cornerstone of life.

Our second claim: Social, Economic and Reproductive Justice - Part 2

2.2: Dignify and recognise care work as the cornerstone of life

2.3 Decent work for all: Decent conditions! Decent opportunities! Decent legislation!


BRIEFING European Added Value in Action. (n.d.). Retrieved from:

Domestic and Care Workers in Europe: An Intersectional Issue. (n.d.). Retrieved from:

Sadhwani, P., & Saleemi, S. (2024, January 12). Better jobs for migrant women | D+C - Development + Cooperation. Retrieved May 13, 2024, from website:


Horodnic, I. A., & Williams, C. (2019). Tackling Undeclared Work in the European Union. SSRN Electronic Journal. doi:

Amnesty International. (2021). Austria: Women migrant care workers demand rights. [online] Available at: [Accessed 24 May 2024].
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