By Ginu Sunny*
Domestic workers comprise a significant part of the unorganised sector and contribute to the national income. Yet, they remain invisible, unregistered in any book and excluded from the labour legislations of our country. The domestic workforce is often considered the grey area of work force that works behind closed doors of private households and is often hard to reach by any conventional policy tools.For instance, this is how the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) in its survey in 2009–10 described the Indian scenario of employment and workforce.
“The total employment in the country was 46.5 crore comprising around 2.8 crore in the organised and the remaining 43.7 crore workers in the unorganised sector. Out of these workers in the unorganised sector, there are 24.6 crore workers employed in agricultural sector, about 4.4 crore in construction work and remaining in manufacturing and service.”(C-DAC, 2016)
Being a highly feminised sector, the nature of domestic work differs from person to person making it a unique and complex workforce. The household works and the employer–employee relationship differ in each situation. Even though most of them work 24/7, they are paid very low wages, have no guaranteed weekly day of rest or medical cover, face restrictions on freedom of movement, and often suffer physical, mental and sexual abuse.
The exploitation of domestic workers can partly be attributed to gaps in national labour and employment legislations, and often reflects discrimination along the lines of sex, race and caste. Various state governments put forward legislations such as the Unorganized Social Security Act and Minimum Wages Schedule, which refer to domestic workers also. However, we can still find an absence of a comprehensive, uniformly applicable national legislation that guarantees fair terms of employment and decent working conditions. Building and strengthening national institutions, adopting effective policy and legislative reforms, facilitating the organisation and representation of domestic workers and their employers, regulation of recruitment and placement agencies in the resource states, and raising awareness and advocacy on domestic workers’ rights are some strategies put forward to change this situation. Main hurdles in implementing these strategies are society’s attitude towards domestic workers and illiteracy, which exclude this disadvantaged section from enjoying the benefits of their own rights. Organising them into one group is also a giant leap in achieving these strategies. But other than these, the ultimate change should happen on the part of employers, who should ensure that theyrespect the rights of domestic workersand treat themfair and square.
There is no dearth of legislations or programmes in our country that intend to cover domestic workers and protect their rights. The problem lies in their implementation and weak institutions and systems of the country. Rather than framing new legislations and forming new organisations, we should work to fortify these institutions and make them capable of delivering and defending the rights of domestic workers. This will help turn the spotlight on the plight of domestic workers and kindle the society to recognise their contributions.
The author is Research Intern with CPPR.
*Featured Image source: Business Line