• Stodia Jackson

The Plight of Domestic Workers During COVID-19

Source: Unsplash

A number of COVID-19 vaccines have been authorized for emergency use in different countries. Prioritization of essential population groups in the administration of the limited vaccines is a public policy concern.

An important consideration in the allocation of the vaccine is how the risk of infection and severe disease varies across socio-demographic groups, and how a vaccine will impact the continued spread of infections within these groups.

These considerations are even more critical when the population at greater risk of severe disease differs from the population with a greater risk of infection. This means that an effective policy will have to balance the roll-out strategy of the vaccine with these two considerations.

According to the National Workers Domestic Alliance (NWDA), domestic workers are essential workers during the pandemic.

Domestic workers work as personal assistants to families, older adults, and people with disabilities. Unlike most white-collar occupations that may not currently require employees to work on-site, domestic workers must work on-site and often need to travel in public transportation, increasing their exposure to infection. As a result, the CDC has classified home care and private household workers in Phase 1 of their distribution recommendations. However, many state roll-out plans make no mention of domestic workers, which makes it unclear to both workers and employers whether they are eligible to receive the vaccine.

The domestic workers industry lacks the structure and predictability common to other industries. They often face various violations to their rights, including health and safety violations. Sadly, this reality happens behind closed doors and therefore lacks government oversight or support. A New York Times article describes how members in the housekeeping profession in the United States of America are facing “a full-blown humanitarian crisis — a Depression level situation.” From economic uncertainty, fear, and desperation, many interviewed house-keepers expressed how their health and services had been exploited by their employers during the pandemic.

Although domestic workers are publicly lauded as essential workers, how they have been treated by employers, and the lack of prioritization from public health bodies and the government, proves how in reality they are expendable essential workers, those whose services are magnified during the pandemic but whose work remains materially undervalued.

In Hong Kong, foreign domestic workers — mainly from the Philippines and Indonesia —have been mandated to get vaccinated or risk non-renewal of their contracts. However, considering the shortages in vaccines, this policy has caused uproar from migrant workers representatives as an “unfair” and “shameful” policy when considering that most of these migrant workers are from a vulnerable sector and will most likely not be able to get vaccinated.


Speaking Plainly

  • Domestic workers are classified as essential workers, and thus need to be prioritized in COVID-19 vaccine allocations.

  • The domestic work industry is highly unstructured and employees experience safety and health violations.

  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, domestic workers have been hard-hit economically and are living in fear and desperation for their future.