Hard work, very low wages: how to improve conditions for housewives?

The issue of additional fees imposed by some operators has been the subject of an agreement between the various players in the sector. But this does not concern the working conditions of housewives. In this respect, there are significant disparities between commercial and non-commercial private companies. Is decommodification the (or a) solution? A symposium organized this Thursday at the Brussels parliament will address, among other things, this issue.

Last Friday, the Minister of Economy and Employment, Bernard Clerfayt (DéFI) met with players in the service card sector to find a solution to the problem of additional fees charged to customers by certain operators due to increased costs. energy and transport costs. Agreement reached: the sector will have to respect the contractual clauses foreseen in the contracts and undertakes to monitor these costs and to pass them back, as a priority, to women workers in the sector (women are in the vast majority).

As for the reform of the service vouchers sector, provided for in the Brussels government’s General Policy Statement, it is in fact on the minister’s desk. But in which direction will it go? We should expect an increase in the price of the service voucher, 9 euros today. Its modalities and extension are still under study. According to Bernard Clerfayt’s office, the text would also aim to improve the working conditions of domestic workers. As? We should know more in just over a month. The reform bill is expected to have a first reading before July 21. Meanwhile, federal-level salary negotiations are struggling to come to a conclusion.

Hard work

Meanwhile, on the ground, the daily lives of housewives continue to be hard. Karima has been working in the service voucher sector for 12 years. Repeating the same gestures several times, bending down, getting up, using products that are often harmful: “ I’m 45 years old, but it’s like I’m 80, I’m so exhausted and with physical problems. My arms and hands are hurting me, I can no longer perform certain movements. I can’t go on like this until retirement. “Hard work, for a very modest salary and not enough to cover all your medical expenses. With a permanent contract, you still have the possibility to work part-time with 31 hours a week, which guarantees you an income of 1600 euros per month. Because despite physical damage and stress, without a minimum of working hours, it is impossible to guarantee a decent income. However, despite the shortage of labor in the sector, this is the fate of many workers. Moreover, the plans offered vary from one company to another, admits Arnaud Le Grelle, spokesman for Federgon (Federation of HR Service Providers): while some reimburse the total cost of travel by public transport, many cover only part, some offer training vouchers or meal vouchers, which others do not. In general, many workers feel insufficiently protected, insists Karima. The days can be long, travel times between clients are not paid, it also happens that the latter behave disrespectfully, continues Brussels deputy Delphine Chabbert (PS), who is organizing a symposium on the subject this Thursday at the Brussels siding (see below). Is the situation greener in nonprofits? Because, and this is little known to the general public, it is possible to use domestic workers hired in recognized social economy companies, even though they are an extremely small minority in the capital.

Service vouchers in the non-market sector

In Brussels, unlike Wallonia, the vast majority of service voucher companies are privately owned. This is the case for 81% of them, according to a study carried out by Idea Consult in 2020. The rest is mainly divided between ASBL, ALE (Local Employment Agencies) and CPAS. Between the two, the regimes vary widely. If conditions are different in the commercial private sector, they are more homogeneous in the non-commercial sector.

Thus, at Pretnet Service, a non-profit organization in the Forest created by the local mission and ALE, recognized in the social economy, candidates are initially offered at least part-time (7 pm, the legal minimum), before they can quickly increase their hours according to your request, explains coordinator Angélique Wespet. Public transport costs are fully borne by the employer. The same applies to Remue Ménage in Saint-Gilles. On both sides, housewives are entitled to training (ergonomics, IT, conflict management, ecological cleaning), which can also be offered, but not guaranteed, in the private commercial sector. Another advantage: a service canceled by the customer will not penalize the worker. She will be paid anyway, assures Rolin Mangala, head of Remue Ménage. Employees also receive meal vouchers (6 euros per day worked). The difference is also marked in the monitoring and supervision of those involved. They will be accompanied to the first appointment with a new client to avoid disappointment”, check that everything is going well, evaluate if the requested number of hours corresponds to the necessary to carry out all the requested tasks. “Adds Angélique Wespes. Finally, the monthly salary is guaranteed, even in the event of the absence of a customer, or delay in the delivery of service vouchers. ” The objective is to employ “, specifies Charles Spapens (PS), councilor for Employment in the Forest.

career evolution

Another system: structures with approval, such as the Home Care Center (CSD), which also offers its clients home help, in addition to home help and nursing assistants. But here, no service vouchers. The staff has the condition of employee, and not of worker as in the service vouchers. The grail, for workers like Karima. Here, the services offered are aimed at a specific audience: people with loss of autonomy, with disabilities or with psychological vulnerability. The beneficiary pays according to his income. ” At the CSD, domestic workers have a permanent contract and their status also includes one hour of meeting per week to discuss the difficulties they may encounter in the field, but also hours of training. In the event of a problem, social assistance is there to support them.. “, says Stéphane Heymans, general manager of CSD Brussels. The aim is to allow domestic workers to develop their careers, train to become family helpers, for example. ” In the commercial private sector, there is no incentive to help female workers train for other trades. » Decommoditization, the solution? ” It is an interesting employment tool for low-skilled people, as long as it is considered as such, with hours of training, to offer the possibility of career progression, which is not viable in a mercantile system where everything is oriented towards profit and profitability. . Subsidizing so massively, as the Brussels region does, a private sector of activity is problematic.”, analyzes Stéphane Heymans. Karima: ” I aspire to do something else, if I were given the opportunity to do qualifying training, maybe I could consider it. But in my situation, how can I imagine that? »

“The question is, why are these professions so essential to our underpaid and undervalued lives? “Summarize Delphine Chabbert. The issue will be at the center of the colloquium she organizes this Thursday at the Brussels parliament. ” Maids, you are essential » will give the floor to the first interested parties and propose ways of reflection to improve their working and health conditions.


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