India Needs to Recognise its Domestic Workers

According to the 2005 NSS reports, there are around 4.75 million domestic workers (WIEGO). A large proportion of the domestic workers migrate from rural areas to the urban spaces as their demand is high in such spaces. The pandemic and the subsequent lockdown have further aggravated the sufferings of the highly demanded yet grossly underpaid domestic workers. We had seen instances of domestic workers being kept in employment with half the pay while for a lot of them, employment has been revoked. Many were subjected to discrimination by RWAs and employers. In the fear of spread of infections many high end colonies in various urban spaces had completely banned entry of domestic workers and had also stopped their pays too without any consideration of their economic positions. 

While the pandemic has proven the importance of domestic care and support, the status of domestic workers has not improved, according to a report published by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI). The Domestic Workers Convention (C189) by the ILO has only been approved by six of the 54 Commonwealth countries ten years after it was introduced to ensure acceptable working conditions for domestic workers. India isn’t one of them. 

The Convention states that every domestic worker has a right to decent work including minimum wages, reprisal of complaints, protection of basic rights etc. (International Labour Organization (ILO)). When it comes to laws enacted by individual states, there is a lack on that front as well as only 13 states so far have enacted legislations that guarantee minimum wages for domestic workers. 

When it comes to estimating how many people are engaged in domestic work, for example, obstacles in gauging the extent of domestic workers’ problems appear right at the outset in India. While official data show that India has 4.75 million domestic workers, 3 million of them are women, the International Labour Organization believes the true figure is substantially higher, ranging from 20 to 80 million. 

The report notes that a Draft Policy on Domestic Workers has been awaiting Cabinet approval since 2017, and that it is urgent to make such rules legally binding rather than just guidelines. The report also noted that E-Shram, which has so far attracted 7.7 crore users, has not disclosed what will be the purpose of this database or how will this database be helpful for the workers.

Along with the right to decent work, domestic workers also deserve the right to reprisal of complaints when it comes to any form of sexual harassment at the workplace. In light of this, there is also a need to review the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act of 2013 to ensure that proper mechanisms are in place for domestic workers to register their grievances and get protection and justice. Separate legislations need to be for the protection of domestic workers from any form of hazardous work that employers might engage them in as they are not covered under any current legislation for protection against any form of hazardous work and poor working conditions. 

All of this leads to the report’s recommendation that India should ratify the C189 as a first step toward aligning national legislations for protection of domestic workers. 

References

  • Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative. (2021, December 10). Retrieved from https://www.humanrightsinitiative.org/publication/domestic-work-is-work
  • International Labour Organization (ILO). (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:12100:0::NO::P12100_ILO_CODE:C189
  • WIEGO. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.wiego.org/sites/default/files/resources/files/Domestic-Workers-Laws-and-Legal-Issues-India.pdf

About Ishita Bagchi

Ishita Bagchi is a public policy consultant by profession. She is an avid reader and an economics graduate with a keen interest in literature.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.

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