Sustainable Development Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth, focuses on promoting sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.
Professor Ito Peng is a Canada Research Chair in Global Social Policy at the Department of Sociology, University of Toronto. Her research and teaching focuses on gender, migration and care policies, and comparative welfare states. She has written extensively on social policies and political economy of care in Asia Pacific, often in comparison with North America and Europe. She just completed a SSHRC funded international partnership research project entitled Gender, Migration, and the Work of Care (2013-2020). She is currently engaged in a new research project, Care Economies in Context: Towards Sustainable Social and Economic Development, funded by SSHRC, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and Open Society Foundations (PI – Ito Peng).
Juyeon Lee is a PhD student in the Social and Behavioural Health Sciences program at Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto. Her research focuses on health inequities, precarious employment, and the political economy of health. Her doctoral research deals with the issue of work-related injuries and deaths in South Korea, centring on critically probing the political economy of occupational health and safety regulatory system in the country. She is currently engaged in a variety of projects in addition to her dissertation work that include Health and the future of work, globally, funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), and Excess mortality and its inequality during the COVID-19 pandemic in Korea, funded by National Medical Center, Seoul, Korea.
CREDITS: This podcast is co-hosted by Dr. Erica Di Ruggiero, Director of the Centre for Global Health, and Ophelia Michaelides, Manager of the Centre for Global Health, at the DLSPH, U of T, and produced by Elizabeth Loftus. Audio editing is by Sylvia Lorico. Music is produced by Julien Fortier and Patrick May. It is made with the support of the School of Cities at U of T.
Erica Di Ruggiero [00:00:07] I'm Eric Di Ruggiero and this is Healthy Cities in the Era, a podcast about the Sustainable Development Goals and how research conducted by faculty and students at the University of Toronto is helping to achieve them. We're recording from Toronto or Tkaronto, which for thousands of years has been the traditional land of the Huron Wendat, the Seneca and the Mississaugas of the Credit. Today, this meeting place is still the home to many indigenous people from across Turtle Island and we are grateful to have the opportunity to work on this land. In this episode, we'll look into a state which focuses on promoting inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all. The United Nations defines decent work as employment that respects the fundamental rights of the human person, as well as the rights of workers in terms of conditions of work, safety and renumeration. This includes respect for the physical and mental integrity of the worker in the exercise of his or her employment. Poverty eradication and improved living and working standards are only possible through stable, well-paid and dignified decent work. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to increasing unemployment worldwide. According to the International Labor Organization, in 2020, the global unemployment rate reached 6.5%, up 1.1% from 2019. In this episode, we'll speak with Ito Peng about the care, economy and care work, which is increasingly relying on care migrant workers, while also discuss how care work is racialized and feminized and how this affects workers well-being. Then we'll speak with Juyeon Lee about occupational health and safety and how precarious workers are often disproportionately affected by fatal occupational injury, particularly in the South Korean context.
Erica Di Ruggiero [00:02:13] Professor Ito Peng is a Canada Research Chair in Global Social Policy at the Department of Sociology, University of Toronto. Her research and teaching focuses on gender, migration and care policies and comparative welfare states. She has written extensively on social policies and political economy of care in Asia Pacific, often in comparison with North America and Europe. I'm delighted to have as my guest today, Professor Ito Peng, and I can't think of a better person to speak to us about the care economy. So, Ito, I know a great deal of your work has focused on the care economy. Can you define that for us? There's the term "care economy." There's the term care work. Can you unpack those terms for us?
Ito Peng [00:03:01] Sure. I define care work broadly as work and relationships that are necessary for the health, welfare, maintenance and protection of all people. Young and old, able bodied and frail. I know this is a really broad definition, but it is broad because care is, I think, at its core, a very basic human need. And whether we know it or not, we all participate in providing care and doing care work, paid or unpaid and as well in receiving care every day. So when I talk about the care economy, what I mean is the sector of economy that is responsible for the provision of care and services that contribute to the nurturing and reproduction of present and future populations. So it includes work such as child care, elder care, education, health care, personal, social and domestic services that are provided in both paid and unpaid forms and within formal and informal sectors.
Erica Di Ruggiero [00:04:24] So it's a very broad definition, as you indicate. But I think care work really is very ubiquitous and also very telling in terms of how a society sees itself and how it positions care work. So why are you so interested in the care economy and care work? Why do you think they are important?
Ito Peng [00:04:46] Well, I'm interested in the care economy and care work because they are, first of all, really important not just for the economy, but also for our society. They are important because even though they are often quite invisible, they actually underpin our economy and economic functions. So, for example, as the the COVID pandemic has shown, without children, adults and older people being cared for, we can't go to work. Even if we go to work, we can't do our work well. We're all stressed out. Basically, our family and our economy wouldn't function well. But that's. But it's not just about work and economy. Care work also connects people and bring people and communities together. People care for each other out of love, concerns and friendships. And by caring for each other, people build and and strengthen relationships. And this, in turn, serves as the kind of glue that holds families, communities and our societies together. So this is one reason I really devote my research on the care economy and care work, because it's important for our everyday living and for our economy and for our society. But another reason why I'm really interested in the care economy is that this is one of the fastest expanding economic sectors, not just in Canada, but you know, everywhere. And it's a major driver of economic development and employment growth. So, for example, across the OECD we see the service sector economy now accounts for well over 70% of the total employment and GDP. And even in lower and middle income countries, including China, the service sector is now estimated to comprise nearly 60% of GDP. And within this sector, care services is one of the fastest growing subsectors. One of the reasons for this huge increase in care services is because our populations are aging. Another reason is that more and more women are working, and so they would need people to care for their children and other family members and they just can't work and care for them at the same time. So for example, I know estimates that global employment in care jobs will grow from something like 206 million in 2017 to 358 million by 2030... Simply based on these sorts of socio demographic changes. Now that's an increase of over 150 million in 13 years, and this figure will be even larger to 405 million. If governments invest resources to meet the UN goals, targets on education, health and long term care and in gender equality. In Canada, for example, the service sector already makes up 75% of employment and 78% of that GDP. And we know from our research that within this sector, health care, social assistance and educational services are the three key drivers of economic and employment growth. But what I have just said only relates to the paid care work, the part of the care economy that actually gets counted in the national GDP. In reality, much of the care work is still done for no pay by families and friends at home and in the community. And all this care work is not counted in our national GDP accounting system. So if we add these paid care work onto our GDP, the size of the GDP will be actually quite huge. In fact, according to the ILO in Canada, the value of unpaid care work is now about 26%. Of our GDP. So that's a huge amount. And if you put together the contributions of both paid and unpaid care worked into the economy, it's huge. And and that's more reason why, you know, I I'm really committed to this research because I really want to show people how big and important care economy and care work is.
Erica Di Ruggiero [00:10:14] Yeah. No, I think it's excellent that you're also here bringing to light, I should say, what's visible because it's measured and counted and what's not visible. And so we're only telling partially a story about who's really making up that care economy. I'm going to come back to some of the points you raised about the ILO and the gendered nature of work. But before I do that, I just want to further discuss with you the fact that care work has also come to be synonymous with low paid care workers, and many of those workers are also migrant workers. So what do you feel are some of the systemic barriers that migrant workers face in Canada and also in other countries? Because this is a global phenomenon where you've done some of your research.
Ito Peng [00:11:01] Sure. Well, as you said, unfortunately, much of their work has come to mean a reliance on low wage care workers and often low wage migrant care workers. Because most of the direct care work, such as child care, elder care and disability care, have been historically associated with women's unpaid care work at home. And because women have historically, historically done this kind of work for free at home, we think that this kind of work is of little or no value, even though in reality they are really, really important work. It's just because it's just that because of this cultural association between women's unpaid work and care, that we have created a market culture that undervalues care work. So the wages of care workers are very low and the working conditions are also pretty bad. Not surprisingly, most men and middle class women wouldn't take these jobs. And in unequal societies, that includes Canada. These jobs then gets passed on to people who are lower in the social and economic hierarchy, such as immigrant women and women of color. And because the demand for care workers is now so high that increasingly this kind of work is also being passed onto women migrant workers. There are a number of systemic barriers facing faced by these migrant care workers in many countries, particularly in Asia and the Middle East, but also in Canada as well. A majority of these migrant care workers work as foreign labor, domestic workers. Their working contract stipulates that they live with their employers to provide domestic services as well as care services. And in many countries, these foreign living, domestic and care workers are not covered by employment legislation. So there's nothing to protect them from, you know, low wages or human rights abuses or labor code violations. And because it's not as if the government inspectors can go into private homes to inspect the working conditions of these workers, these are living migrant domestic and care workers are really very vulnerable to abuses and exploitation. Another barrier is that not only are these migrant care workers separated from their families, sometimes for years at a time, but even in the recipient countries where they're working, their mobility is also restricted because they are living because of their living conditions. And so they are often isolated from communities and people outside of their employers families. One last big barrier for the migrant care workers is that their status vulnerability because skilled workers is often considered low wage and low status work. And and the assumption here is that care work is a low skilled work. There is a huge barrier. For them to get permanent residency or citizenship in the receiving country. They could be working in the country for years and helping support families and the economies of those countries. But for many of them, they would never be able to get long term residency or citizenship because again, they're considered low skilled workers.
Erica Di Ruggiero [00:15:11] Yeah. So I mean, I think you've really painted a very bleak but also comprehensive picture of the many systemic barriers that affect these low skilled workers, in part because they are low status, because of the fact that the work is not valued in the same way other work is. And this market culture, as you've really nicely described. So I think if they're not counted, which is really what's so fundamental about the work that you're doing with many others, then it can't be valued. It remains invisible on these individuals who really fall between the cracks. So I do actually want to return now to a point you raised earlier, if I may, and that has to do with the gendered nature. So just adding another layer of complexity. But as you know, the International Labor Organization estimates that about 76% of care in domestic work falls on women and that care work is gendered and racialized. So there are many intersectional perspectives that can be brought to further understanding care work. So how does this racialization and feminization of care work actually affect the workers themselves?
Ito Peng [00:16:27] Well, as I mentioned earlier, and you have pointed out, to care and domestic work has traditionally been associated with women's unpaid work at home. And so as societies, we have, I think, developed an extremely biased view of this kind of work. In many countries, care and domestic work is seen as low skilled, low status work that only women and racialized women or migrant women would do. This, I think, has is a serious social and cultural problem that we have to deal with. This racialization and feminization of care work affects workers. And I think in many ways it well, first of all, it means that a whole group of workers and and in this case, women and racialized women are systematically treated unequally. They are socially and economically downgraded and they are systematically barred from getting better wages and from achieving better social and economic outcomes. These inequalities affect people not just economically but also socially, as they and their families and their children may not be able to have the opportunity for better social mobility and as well at the personal level. Gender and racial inequalities also have negative impacts on one's mental and physical health as well. So I think the impact of these racialization and feminization really have multiple consequences, not just for the care workers, but for their families and for the next generations of people.
Erica Di Ruggiero [00:18:28] Mm hmm. Yeah. And and I know we could talk at length about the vulnerabilities of these different workers and the need to further understand the conditions under which they work. But let's maybe and on a hopeful note and perhaps direct our attention to hearing your thoughts on what can actually be done to ensure that the most precarious workers, but workers in general, in the care economy, are given proper supports and protections. Any thoughts about that?
Ito Peng [00:19:02] Yeah, I think there are a number of things that we could do. I think the first is that we need to make the care economy much more visible so people will actually understand, understand it better. And policymakers and other social actors would then work to develop better policies and make meaningful changes. This is not is what my colleagues and I are trying to do in our Care Economy Research Project. We are trying to sort of measure and map out the size and shape of care economies in nine different countries. And to use this data to develop macroeconomic models that would help policymakers and civil society actors develop better policies and strategies to ensure more sustainable and equality inducing economic growth. I think another things that we need to do is that as a country and as people, communities, we need to participate in more actively in some of the global initiatives to support and protect care workers. A good example is the IOC's convention, number 8189. This is the International Domestic Workers Convention that tries to ensure that every domestic worker has the right to a safe and healthy working environment. Among other things, this convention was actually ratified by ILO in 2011. But the sad thing is that many countries, particularly migrant care workers, are receiving countries, including Canada and the U.S., have not yet signed on to this convention. So at minimum, we should really try to pressure our government to sign on to this convention. I think finally, as a part of understanding the economy, I think we need to also work towards what many feminist scholars have been advocating, which is the 4 "R's" of care, and that is first, recognize care and care work as a as valuable and important work. Second, reduce unpaid care work by formalizing and embedding care work into the broader economy and society. Third, redistribute care work not just between women and men. I think men should do more care work, by the way, but also between different classes, race and ethnic groups. And finally, we value care work that would lead to higher wages, better working conditions, and work better social recognitions for care work [...] of care work as important work.
Erica Di Ruggiero [00:22:10] Yeah. No, I think that's an excellent way to conclude our episode and thank you so much for taking the time today. Really, I think you've underscored the importance of making visible the care economy and in turn that will lead to better policy making. And the 4 R's, I think, are a really good way to think about policymaking as well. So thanks so much.
Ito Peng [00:22:31] Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Erica Di Ruggiero [00:22:34] My pleasure.
Erica Di Ruggiero [00:22:43] Juyeon Lee is a Ph.D. candidate in the Social and Behavioral Health Sciences program at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and a student in the Collaborative Specialization in Global Health at the University of Toronto. Her research focuses on health inequities, precarious employment and political economy of health. Her doctoral research deals with the issue of work related injuries and deaths in South Korea, centering on critically probing the political economy of occupational health and safety regulatory systems in the country. So I'm delighted to have Juyeon Lee join us today to talk about SDG 8. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself in your research in occupational health and safety regulations in South Korea?
Juyeon Lee [00:23:31] Thank you so much for inviting me to have an opportunity to think about workers health and safety in the context of sustainable development goals. And my name is Juyeon Lee, and I am a Ph.D. student in the Social and Behavioral Health Sciences Program at Dalla Lana School of Public Health at University of Toronto. So prior to commencing my doctoral study, I worked as a scholar activist for a not for profit research institute in South Korea, and my research focused on health inequities and precarious employment and health. And my doctoral research deals with the issue of work related injury and death in South Korea, because Korea has had one of the highest rate of fatal occupational injury among the high income countries across the world. So my research focuses on critically investigating how and why regulatory system fails to prevent a significant number of injury and death and related inequities over the past decades.
Erica Di Ruggiero [00:24:36] Yeah, so I mean, certainly your past experience, I'm sure shaped why you wanted to focus on this really important question. And I'm sure listeners are perhaps a little surprised about the degree to which there are occupational injuries in South Korea. Can you tell us a little bit about why precarious workers in particular are disproportionately affected by fatal occupational injuries?
Juyeon Lee [00:25:02] Sure. So there are many factors that have contributed to inequity in occupational injuries between precarious and non precarious workers. First of all, in most countries, the occupational safety and health regulations were designed and implemented in the first place for full time permanent employees who are directly employed by large corporations. In Korea, large corporations have massively used subcontracting to avoid the responsibility imposed by labor laws. Thus, dangerous work has been outsourced to workers in precarious employment, especially in small and medium sized enterprises who are not being protected by laws and regulations. The practice of outsourcing and increase in precarious employment was profound in Korea in the aftermath of Asian financial crisis in 1997 and 1998. But I want to point out that there were no effective government intervention to protect the health and safety of workers in precarious employment. Rather, the government promoted pro-business agenda. Furthermore, the penalty for occupational health and safety offenses has been too weak to force the corporation to comply with the regulation, and the government's poor enforcement practices have sent the wrong signals to corporation. Death penalty for most safety and health offenses are much cheaper than investment in safety measures.
Erica Di Ruggiero [00:26:39] Hmm. Yeah. Now, that's interesting because and it's certainly a parallel with other countries when we see countries coming out of economic crisis and a real focus on growth and economic growth and getting the country back on track. But sounds like quite a failure in regulation and policy to really protect those vulnerable workers. I do know that, you know, having done work in this area myself, that precarity in the workplace actually intersects with many other determinants. And we could probably spend all day talking about those many intersections. But I'd like to hear you say a little bit more about what role gender plays in in the rates of occupational injuries among those precarious workers who you've talked about.
Juyeon Lee [00:27:26] Now. In fact, women only account for about 5% of both fatal occupational injuries and occupational diseases in Korea in 2018. However, it doesn't mean that women are working in safer and healthier workplaces than men. It partly represents unintended consequences of the long history of excluding women from male dominated occupations such as construction and manufacturing that involve high risk of occupational injuries and diseases. And on the other hand, it also implies that occupational injuries and diseases of women remain unheard and hidden in official statistics. So many women are working in service sectors, and many of the workplaces of female dominated occupations have been recognized as a service space for customers or users, rather than a workspace for workers. So, for example, a school is not just a space for children to be cared and educated. School is a workspace for teachers, administrator and school food service workers to work safely and without risk to their health. But for example, school food service worker have been exposed to numerous risk factors. They frequently get burned, lift heavy objects. And most recently in Korea, it was reported that they are suffering from occupational lung cancer due to poor ventilation and suffering from cystitis. Due to the shortage of work force and lack of time to access to toilet. And employers on reasonable order that prevented workers from going to the toilet due to concerns regarding hygiene. And furthermore, while the types of injuries that are suffered mostly by men such as falling from height and heating by moving or falling objects are easily recognized as an occupational injury and thus relatively more likely to be compensated. But it takes so long for women's injuries and diseases to be recognized as a disease contracted from work activity.
Erica Di Ruggiero [00:29:42] I think you've outlined many issues there to unpack. I think really getting a good understanding of the nature and evolution of work, who gets to participate, who's included, who's excluded, and having a real nuance of the different kinds of sectors that make up work and what's legitimized as work and making visible the many different subgroups of workers that that make up the workforce. So gender, of course, is one of many intersections that we would need to care about. Thanks for explaining that, because for our listeners who may not have a real nuanced understanding of what's going on in South Korea, I think you've explained that really beautifully. I want to kind of go back to your research. So you mentioned at the beginning, of course, that pursuing a Ph.D. here at U of T based on your research and I know it's still emerging, your findings, what were the major gaps in the occupational safety and health regulatory system in South Korea that that led to a higher rate of workplace injury fatalities? Mm hmm.
Juyeon Lee [00:30:47] As I mentioned in my answer to the previous question, employers and workers in small and medium sized enterprises have been overlooked in the occupational safety and health regulatory system in Korea. And because these worker occupied the majority of the occupational injuries in Korea, this is one of the major gaps in the regulatory system. And additionally, in my research, I've met many people who pointed out a considerable gap between legal text and workplace practices. This means two things. First, the government has failed to effectively enforce the Health and Safety Law. Health and Safety Inspectorate have been under-resourced and lacked strong enforcement, power, capability and competence. So no matter how good the Occupational Health and safety law and regulation a country has, workers get injured and killed at work day after day without an effective enforcement of the law. And second, it is highly questionable that Korea's occupational safety and health regulations provide a regulatory basis for effective representation of workers on health and safety matters in non-unionized workplaces. This is because most Korean worker, except for a few full time permanent, unionized employees of large corporations, remain in a weak position in the labor market and within the labor process. Such vulnerable situation actually negatively influence workers ability to take direct action towards implementing their legal right to a safe and healthy workplace, especially in smaller enterprises. Legislative measures protecting workers individual rights to refuse dangerous work and their rights to information on the hedgers at work are rarely utilized by workers.
Erica Di Ruggiero [00:32:47] Hmm. Yeah. And I think you've outlined that, you know, work is not just a job. It's clearly also the conditions under which we labor also the opportunity to have a collective voice. And so certainly in non-unionized situations, individuals are left to their own devices and may not even know what rights they can exercise to achieve better, healthy workplaces. Sounds like also, again, a failure of policy and regulation to be enforced. I want to sort of close with maybe more of a hopeful sort of question related to what can be done to reduce the risk of fatal occupational injuries among precarious workers in South Korea in particular. You've certainly outlined many of the issues and many of the regulatory gaps, especially in enforcement. But if we were to turn things around, what would that look like? How could we actually prevent these fatal occupational injuries among precarious workers?
Juyeon Lee [00:33:50] So I would say it requires the combined force of the government, employers and workers. But first, the government must have a political will and capacity to regulate and support workplace health and safety. And specifically, the government should increase the quantity and quality of enforcement resources. And additionally, more supports need to be given to both employers and workers of small enterprises. And second, employers have to comply with the state regulation at the same time proactively identify and address old and new risk in cooperation with workers. So unlike the taken for granted assumption that health and safety at work is a shared interest between employers and workers. We have seen that employers, they are always kind of weighing, safety and profit. So therefore the penalty for health and safety offenses should be set higher than the investment in health and safety. And finally, workers have to be organized to effectively exercise their rights and improve the representation of workers interests on health and safety issue. And the strategies to improve worker representation will need to be embrace unionized and non-unionized workers.
Erica Di Ruggiero [00:35:15] Thank you so much. I think you've really given us a lot to think about, and I really appreciate you joining us for this podcast episode. Thank you.
Juyeon Lee [00:35:25] Thank you.
Erica Di Ruggiero [00:35:34] The conversations with our guests today have shed light on the importance of protecting labor rights and promoting a safe and secure working environment for all workers, especially for domestic precarious workers and for migrant workers. As our speakers noted, there are significant barriers that prevent these workers from working in a safe environment, including labor laws that are not enforced, restricting the actions of employee organize unions or restrictions placed on worker mobility. These workers also continue to be affected by the racialization and feminization of work. There is much to be done to significantly improve the standards within the labor market for these marginalized populations. As Schilling noted, significant change within the labor market requires a combined effort between the government, employers and workers. And, as Ito noted, it is also important to acknowledge the importance of worker visibility. Creating safe and healthy working environments for all workers will only be possible if all actors understand what care, work and precarious work involve in order to make meaningful changes. Healthy cities in the SDG era is made with the support of the School of Cities at the University of Toronto, whose mission is to bring urban focus researchers, educators, students, practitioners and the public together to explore and address complex urban challenges. We would love to hear your thoughts on healthy cities in the SDG era. If you enjoyed this episode, please rate, subscribe and share. To help others find this series, you can find healthy cities in the SGC era on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and the Dalla School of Public Health's YouTube page, as well as our Center for Global Health website. Please join us for our next episode where we'll look at SDG 9 industry, innovation and infrastructure. Thank you for tuning in and we look forward to speaking soon. Take care.