Untold Story of Domestic Workers and the Law

June 10th, 201311:04 am @    


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:

  • cleaning utensils,
  • washing clothes,
  • other house-cleaning stuff,
  • taking care of an infant , looking after an aged, sick, or disabled member of the house in which they are employed,
  •  cooking
  • guarding the house while a family goes for a trip etc.

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”

  • Initiatives by ILO to bring domestic workers on its agenda: The 100th Session of the International Conference of the International Labour Organization (ILO) adopted a unique convention in Geneva this June titled the Domestic Workers Convention 2011, which called upon members to ensure the effective promotion and protection of the human rights of all domestic workers. Recognizing the significant contribution of domestic workers to the global economy, the simultaneous undervaluation of domestic work, and the large proportion of domestic workers in the national workforce of developing countries, the convention laid down a comprehensive set of rights and entitlements that included issues of remuneration and working conditions.
  • Provision of social protection is enshrined in Articles 38 (securing a social order for the promotion of welfare of the people), 39 (certain principles of policy), 41 (right to work, education and public assistance in certain cases), 42 (just and human conditions of work and maternity relief) and 43(living wage etc.) of the Constitution of India as a part of the Directive Principles of State Policy. Important social security, poverty alleviation and social welfare measures are being implemented byvarious Ministries/Departments of State Govt.
  • One of the leaps taken by India to conform with the Constitutional mandates is enacting Domestic Workers Welfare and Social Security Act 2010.The Act defines domestic worker u/s 2(f) as, a person who is employed for  remuneration  whether in cash or kind , in any house hold ‘or similar Establishments’ through any agency or directly, either on a temporary  or  contract basis or permanent, part time or full time to do the household or allied work   and  includes a  “Replacement worker” who is working as a replacement for  the main workers for a short and  specific period of time as agreed with the main worker; the explanation states that a household and allied work includes but is not limited to activities such as cooking or a part of it, washing clothes or utensils, cleaning or dusting of the house, driving, caring/nursing of the children/sick/old/mentally challenged or disabled persons.
      • Under S-2 (h), “Employer” means any person, authorities, management that engages the domestic worker to do any work in a household whether part time or full time either directly or through any other person or agency and who has an ultimate control over the affairs of the household and includes any other person to whom the affairs of such household is entrusted and  in relation to contract  labour, the principal employ.
      • In order to achieve the objectives of this Act, Central, State & District Advisory Board have been set up with defined powers. It also directs all domestic workers, employers or service providers to  be registered as per procedure laid down u/s15.
      • Provisions of S-18 expressly prohibits employment of children as domestic worker. As per S- 21. Identity cards shall be given to each beneficiary,i.e a person registered under the Act, along with his photograph duly affixed thereon along with passbook to enable them in opening the  bank accounts.  u/s 26 elaborate working conditions have also been defined.
      • Also if any service provider contravenes provisions of the Act he shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three months and  with fine which may extend to two thousand  rupees, or with both. Moreover in case of failure of employer he/she shall  be punished with fine which may extend to Rs 2000.
  • Besides legislative enactments efforts have also been made by several organizations & NGO’s to create for them a better world to work in. The National Domestic Workers Movement (NDWM) has campaigned for the rights of domestic workers in many states. The NDWM has played a role along with other organizations in bringing in minimum wage legislation in Karnataka and a state welfare board bill for domestic workers in Maharashtra .Other organizations, such as the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), have taken up specific issues or have organized workers with small successes within a limited area (SEWA).The Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) is a trade union organization of “poor, self-employed women workers.”

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.

Article by

Khyati is a pursuing B.A.LLB from Vivekanand Institute of Professional Studies, Delhi. She loves to read and has flair for creative activities like drawing and painting.

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