Analysis: domestic work is the most feminized job in Argentina

Recent policies push for domestic workers' labor rights - but there’s a long way to go

For many years in Argentina, the single largest occupation for women was domestic work. Since the pandemic, it’s fallen to second place, after sales – but remains the source of employment for 15% of working women in Argentina, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Census (INDEC). 

Of all private house workers, 97% are women, making it the most feminized occupation in the country.

March 30 is the International Day of Domestic Workers, and today, the situation in Argentina is similar to that in much of Latin America. Across the region, between 11 million and 18 million people do this job, which includes cooking, cleaning, and care work, among other tasks. The vast majority (93%) are women, according to the UN, making it the primary source of income for 10-14% of women in the region.

“It’s one of the most precarious jobs: low salaries, bad working conditions, high levels of informality,” said Justina Lee, an economist from the activist organization Economía Feminista (Feminist Economy). 

According to domestic workers’ health insurer, OSPACP, an hour of domestic work is paid at AR$611.50-AR$ 659 (US$2.93-3.16 at the official exchange rate and US$1.87-2.02 at the MEP rate) per hour. 

While some have a fixed job taking care of children or cleaning houses in the same place every day, some work for a few hours per week in several places. The piecemeal nature of their employment makes it harder to access their rights, as they get paid per hour by different sources rather than holding a contract: what for their employers is a couple of hours’ home help paid under the table is, for the workers, a precarious lifeline.

“They generally don’t access the most basic labor rights, such as holidays, leave if they’re sick or pregnant – and most don’t even access a pension after they retire,” Lee said.

Informality comes in the form of not being registered, being paid in cash by their employers, and not benefiting from social security payments, which range from pension contributions to healthcare, and insurance. 

“Most of them are in charge of the care work within their own households too, which means they work all day, literally,” Lee added. 

She pointed out that different studies carried out by Economía Feminista, INDEC and the Labour Ministry show there are anywhere between 840,000 and 1.5 million domestic workers in Argentina: the high informality rates make it hard to know for sure. By the end of 2022, 81% were working informally.

In 2021, the ministries of Labor, Women and Gender, and Economy joined forces to create the Registered (Registradas) policy, which encourages domestic workers and their employers to formalize their contracts. It applies to those working more than six hours per week in the same household. 

Under the policy, the government pays 50% of the monthly salary of newly hired domestic workers for the employers for six months. 

However, it’s key to keep working on campaigns to dignify the sector and its workers, and the importance of their work and rights, according to Sol Prieto, National Director of Economy and Gender at the Economy Ministry.

“Better working conditions would also imply more economic independence for them, which would affect the way they make decisions and the freedom to choose [about their lives],” said Lee.

She recognized the importance of programs like Registered but added that the government needs to implement a more comprehensive care work plan. “It’s essential to have provision of care on the behalf of the state, that includes these workers and guarantees care for everyone across the country.”


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