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Uruguay raises bar on care services, shatters gender archetypes

A new introduced by Uruguay on care services has been rated as the best model in pacesetting the best international law for the future of care services.

The law, which was introduced in 2016, has been cited by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) as a model for care work in the future – all children, persons with disabilities and elderly persons, have the right to access care services.

The international labour body observed that the state does not only provide those services but also guarantees their quality by providing training to care workers.

The Care Act – President Tabaré Vázquez’s flagship policy – was introduced to avoid a care crisis in the country. It also recognizes the right of caregivers to perform their work in decent working conditions and aims to change the prevalent gendered division of labour.

The issues addressed by Uruguay’s new care law exist on a global scale and were highlighted in the recent ILO’s report Care work and care jobs for the future of decent work, which was published in June.

According to the report, a global care crisis could result from the increasing demand for paid care work and the current service deficits if investments are not made in the care economy.

The Director of the ILO Office for the Southern Cone of Latin America, and a social security expert, Bertranou said: “Uruguay’s Integrated National Care System represents a new model to expand social protection to the 21st century needs. This and the child care systems of Chile, Costa Rica and Mexico could also serve as an example of good practice for other countries in the region and beyond.”

ILO stated that the new system is also considered as a bold step towards reducing gender inequalities in the world of work.

President Vazquez is one of the champions of Impact 10x10x10, a pilot initiative, which engages key decision makers in government, businesses and universities around the world to make gender equality an institutional priority.

His government supported surveys by UN Women, UNFPA and other development agencies in Uruguay, which showed that women spent two-thirds of their week doing unpaid work, and only one-third on paid work. For men, the reverse applied.

It was this data that led to the drastic policy change on care: civil society and academia in Uruguay proposed a re-conceptualization of ‘care’ as a collective and societal issue, taking it out of the private and family sphere and positioning it as a human rights issue.

Global research supports the national survey results, showing that women across the world subsidize care work by quitting paid work to look after children and elderly parents and for managing household chores.

A 2017 ILO-Gallup report found that, globally, a majority of women would prefer to work in paid jobs, including those who are not in the workforce, and that men agree.

This implies that a large share of this potential labour force could be brought into paid employment through universal access to care policies, services and infrastructure.

With its double focus on addressing the growing care crisis and reducing gender inequalities, Uruguay’s new care system leaves the country well prepared for the future of work and social protection.

“The care system not only has to be looked at in relation to present rights, but also in relation to future sustainability of our societies,” the National Secretary of Care from Uruguay, Julio Bango added.

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