Untold Story of Domestic Workers and the Law

Kanchan, a domestic worker works from 9a.m to 7 p.m in several houses for an income of 1000/per month/per house, has two daughters one married who is not even 18 and other of 15 years engaged with her to add fraction more income to feed the mouths of her other two young boys and also an abusive and addictive rickshaw-puller alcoholic husband. An uneducated women belonging to a backward, poverty- stricken region of Bihar, given 4 leaves a month which she takes not as matter of right but at the mercy of anger  & ill-words of her employer, & god forbid she takes fifth holiday , she might just loose one house besides being labeled as “ one who takes too much holidays.”

Domestic workersLike her there are at least 52.6 million men and women across the world working as domestic workers & probably in much worse conditions. Unfortunately this is the reality check of these uneducated poor domestic-workers who aspire just for three meals a day, and a place to live of their own.

These domestic workers comprises mainly of women and children.They are employed either permanently or temporarily for full day or for half a day, either directly or through any agency.

Various kind of work performed by them:

Some of the reasons that force them into such work inter aliaare-

Poverty

Poverty is one of the key factors which pushes the domestic workers to enter into such work. Since these people belong to utmost lower class & are usually uneducated they are hardly left with any option in their pockets. Moreover they have large families directly implying more mouths to feed so they are willing to work for whatsoever money their employer pays.

Illiteracy

Lack of education qualification leaves with no other option other than one where the skills of education do not act as hindrance in work.

Promising urban lifestyle

Yet another factor that attracts migrants to urban cities is the false hope of finding a decent job that can put an end to all their miseries by accommodating them& due to their poor bargaining power & cheap labor easy means of livelihood is created for them in today’s growing nuclear culture houses.Children&often girls which end up in domestic works coming from rural areas are sent by their families to live with better off relatives in urban areas , who ultimately escape such relatives & end up being in domestic work.

Problems faced by domestic workers

It is a worldwide fact that condition of these domestic workers is nowhere better off than their counterpart. They are badly paid;in fact the permanently employed workers through agencies are in many cases never even actually paid. They are mistreated not only in hands of placement agencies but also their employers. In majority cases proper food, medicines & proper rest on being ill  is denied to them. They are not even givena proper room & are made to sleep in kitchen, store rooms etc, without any privacy thereby making oneself vulnerable to sexual abuse by male members of the household. To quote one such example,  a domestic worker shared her horror story wherein she told Human Rights Watch that

“The husband wakes me up and rapes me. He has threatened me with a knife and said I must not tell anyone. He does it each time his wife travels. I am scared. If I told his wife, I would not know where to live.” – Brigitte M., Guinea, age 15, 2006

It is expected from them to rise first and go last to bed &perform endless household choresall-round the year without any break.

However to say that part time workers and full- time workers are better off is also not correct as the same faces the risk of losing their jobs or rather “houses” for reasons as menial as taking few extra leaves than agreed upon. Even they are also not spared from abuses both physical and sexually by the owners.

Moreover absence of Trade Unions is yet another problem. Participation in union activities is difficult due to the hours and nature of domestic workers’ work. Only a small fraction of domestic workers in the country are in touch with associations or are unionized. The lack of unionization is a critical factor in their exclusion from labour laws, the violation of national, legal norms in their wage fixation, and the absence of entitlements to various social security benefits.

Some of the other common  problems include no health insurance , no maternity protection, no old age security,no defined work time, no weekly offs.

Various Steps taken to organise this “Invisible occupation”

So where do we stand now?

Some  states which have made efforts to work in this direction are Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Kerala, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu. In Kerala (Kerala Artisan and Skilled Workers’ Welfare Fund), Maharashtra (Maharashtra Domestic Workers Welfare Board Act, 2008), and Tamil Nadu: (Manual Workers Act (Regulation and Employment and Conditions of Work), 1982) have been enacted.

But every coin has two sides. On paper these schemes appear to be prima facie very perfect, but unfortunately all that glistens is not gold. Lack of awareness about their rights, low confidence in judicial system, high corruption has made these measures futile. The actual effectivity is yet to be seen.

After all,its not just about being employed & being paid its about being human.

By Khyati Sharma on June 10, 2013 · Posted in Law And Society, Law and Women

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