No Time for Care Work?

Who runs the household when all the adult members of a family work eight hours a day? Coming home, picking up the children on the way and quickly doing some errands before cooking and tidying up - where is the time left for leisure, relationships or political work? You can find out here who still has this time, who doesn't and how things can be done differently.

Who Is Taking Care of the Household, Children and the Elderly?

How care work is organised has changed considerably in recent decades. Before the 1950s, it was common in the Global North for women and queer people to stay at home and look after the household, the children and the elderly in need of care. While the employment rate of women has risen sharply, especially since the 1970s, the distribution of care work between the genders has not changed to the same extent. Women and queers still do four times as much care work as men.

And let's be honest; a long working day is hardly compatible with the daily care work: laundry, cleaning, cooking, getting presents for the next birthday, keeping an eye on the family's doctor's appointments, etc. - Not to mention caring for children or sick people.


What is Care Work?

Care work refers to the work of caring and looking after others. This can include many things such as nursing, housework, care work, voluntary work, being there for friends, family, etc. It is work that has historically mostly been done by women and still is. The term originates from the feminist movement.


Learn more about the term

Migrant Care Workers in the Global North

Care work is valued less socially and financially than work in an office or factory. People from richer countries in particular, with better-paid jobs, do a lot less care work themselves. They pass the work on to people who work for lower wages, often to workers from poorer countries - often (but not exclusively) to women. Even though care work in the Global North is associated with poor working conditions and discrimination, it is often better paid than other work in the countries of origin.

What does life look like for someone who has left home for financial reasons to do care work in Germany? This picture story can help you understand. The story itself is fictional, but it is based on real-life circumstances.

Invisible Labor

International Protests of Migrant Care Workers

People who can afford it, very often outsource household and care work to financially disadvantaged people. These workers often come from abroad and have to endure poor working and living conditions in order to carry out the work. The care work in the families of these laborers must in turn be carried out by other people. This chain of care work is referred to as the global "care chain". The care chain includes care work that is carried out in hospitals or retirement homes, as well as in private households. The following text deals with care work in private households. Problems vary in different countries, depending on how domestic work is organised there and which legal framework conditions are in place. Here you can find out about different protest movements of migrant care workers in Germany, Spain, Hong Kong and the Netherlands.



Illustration of care worker protesting, holding signs that say "#legalizenow!"
In Germany, care work is often carried out by people without secure residence status living in insecure, often unhealthy conditions. They have to do hard physical labor, fear deportation and have no access to many basic social rights. With the #legalizenow campaign, migrants demand the legalisation of all undocumented migrants. They organise protests, press conferences and dance protests for the visibility of undocumented migrants. The campaign was initiated by respect Berlin, an association that organises migrants in paid domestic work and defends their rights.

The Netherlands

Ilustration of a protest where people hold signs such as "We take care of your families" or "ratify the ILO convention 189 now!"
The convention 189 "Decent Work for Domestic Workers" of the International Labor Organization (ILO) defined basic rights and international labor standards for domestic workers in 2011. The Dutch government voted in favour of the convention at the International labor Conference, but has not yet implemented it. This is why domestic workers protested for the first time in 2013 in Amsterdam together with some employers showing solidarity. Their signs bore slogans such as: "I like paying taxes", "We take care of your children", "I have 27 front door keys" and "Ratify ILO Convention 189 now!" Migrant domestic workers took to the streets again with their union on International Labor Day 2023. Twelve years after the 189 Convention, the Dutch government still does not grant domestic workers the same rights as other workers. In addition to the recognition of Convention 189, the protesters are demanding work and residence permits.


Illustration of a protest of care workers.
Around 70 percent of domestic workers in Spain are migrants, most of whom come from Latin America. 70 to 80 percent of migrant domestic workers work in informal employment relationships, meaning they have no labour or legal protection. They have no or only short-term residence permits. A long-term resident permit would require them to be employed in Spain for three years. However, many employers decide to dismiss them before the deadline or refuse to help them take legal action. They often live for five to seven years without a long-term residence permit. Territorio Doméstico is an organisation fighting for the rights of migrant workers, especially in care professions, and for appropriate recognition of care work in society. It has a strong feminist and anti-colonial focus.

People's Republic of China (Hong Kong Special Administrative Region)

Illustration of care workers protesting.
In the past few years, hundreds of migrant domestic workers demonstrate in Hong Kong on the Sunday after the 8th of March. Most of them were unable to demonstrate on the 8th of March itself because they had to work and were afraid of losing their jobs. The protest was organised by the trade union group United Filipinas of Hong Kong, among others. Domestic workers in Hong Kong only have one day off in a week. They often use this off day to meet on the street and draw attention to themselves. This has been a tradition since the 1980s. According to the "live-in" law, employees in Hong Kong have to live with their employers. They often live there in poor conditions, with not enough space and food, and are under constant surveillance. The protests are an important opportunity for workers to get to know each other and their rights, to network and to better defend themselves against abuse. The protests are a safe haven, far away from the workplace.

A New Vision: How Can We Distribute Care Work Equally?

A society in which all adults work full-time, leaving little to no time for care work, does not seem to be the solution. This is because the resulting care gaps are only shifted to other parts of the world, and care work remains precarious labour.

So how can this problem be solved?
A change can only take place if labour is generally distributed differently in society. In capitalist societies, the exploitation of people in their wage labour and in care work is interdependent. The struggle must therefore be directed against the capitalist logic itself and can only be successful if workers show solidarity with each other internationally.

What could a fairer society look like?
The Marxist sociologist and feminist Frigga Haug came up with a concept for this: The four-in-one perspective. This concept defines four areas of life that share equal value - employment, caring activities (e.g. household, nursing, self-care), self-development activities (sport, art, learning) and political activity.

What Does a Good Day Look Like?

Frigga Haug assumes that everyone has 16 hours of "working time" (with eight hours of sleep) per day for these activities in order to contribute to society. All four areas of life are important for society and for each individual. Everyone would then have four hours a day for each of the four areas. However, this should not be an absolute figure, think more of it as a guideline. In addition, the time that each person spends on these areas can vary depending on their stage of life. For example, in young adulthood, people spend more time on their personal development. The time spent on caring activities increases when you take on responsibility for children.

20 Hours of Paid Work

With Friggas concept, paid work would have to be reduced to around 20 hours per week for everyone, making it more accessible to all. Cis-men could be more involved in unpaid care work. In addition, everyone would have more time for cultural work, personal development and organising their own lives, as well as political engagement and participation.

Four Areas of Work in One Day

Assign the matching icons and activities to the four different areas. There is not necessarily a right and wrong - some elements also fit into several categories!


The 4 in 1 Perspective

Your Ideal Work Day

After you have assigned the tasks - What do you think about the following questions?

  • Do all activities only fit into one category? Would this division of time be interesting to you?
  • What does your ideal 16-hour day look like?
  • If everyone lived according to your ideal 16-hour day, would all the important tasks get done?
  • If you could live like in Frigga Haug's utopia of the four-in-one perspective, would you do more or fewer things than you do now that you don't like doing?

Sources: No Time for Care?

Using and Sharing!

This article is part of the series Exiting the Crisis! - Understanding Crises and Paths to Global Justice, which was produced in cooperation with Konzeptwerk Neue Ökonomie (external link, opens in a new window). Online Editing by Alina Kopp. This article is published under the terms of the Creative Commons License CC BY 4.0 (external link, opens in a new window)! Share, use or adapt it for your educational work. Don't forget to republish it under the same conditions and mention L!NX and the authors.

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No Time for Care Work?

Who runs the household when all the adult members of a family work eight hours a day? Coming home, picking up the children on the way and quickly doing some errands before cooking and tidying up - where is the time left for leisure, relationships or political work? You can find out here who still has this time, who doesn't and how things can be done differently.


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