Modern day Slaves

The plight of domestic workers goes unnoticed even today
Jayashri Ramesh Sundaram Delhi

Ever thought why corporates or media houses made you work for peanuts? If you did, I am sure you must have wondered when a hike in your salary would match your skills and experience. What perhaps goes unnoticed is the plight of the domestic worker. What will your domestic worker do in her case? In most cases they do not have the courage and confidence to stand up for themselves. It is mostly the trust and the rapport they share with their employers that can help them get a hike in their wages. The work of domestic workers includes myriad duties ranging from cleaning, cooking, washing and ironing clothes, taking care of children, the elderly and the sick , gardening, guarding the house, driving, and taking care of pets.

While all the other unorganized sectors have to be registered, domestic workers don’t get registered. They are amongst the most vulnerable groups of labourers. Unclear terms of employment and exclusion from labour legislation, make them prone to exploitation. According to International Labour Organization, currently there are at least 53 million domestic workers worldwide. This does not include children who work as domestic labourers. The finding also says that 83% of domestic workers are women.

Unacceptable working conditions, labour exploitation, and abuses of human rights are the major problems faced by domestic workers. Additionally, non-availability of proper statistics can make it difficult for one to keep a record of domestic workers who go missing. Domestic workers, especially the ones who migrate for work purposes face ill-treatment, torture and abuse: whether it be physical, sexual or mental abuse .International Labour Organization (ILO) seeks to protect the rights of domestic workers, promote equality of opportunity and treatment, and improve working and living conditions. The Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189) and Recommendation (No. 201)lays down clear principles for the benefit of domestic workers: promotion and protection of human rights, fundamental principles and rights at work, terms and conditions of employment, working time, remuneration, occupational safety and health and social security. It also specifies groups with special risks: child domestic workers, live-in workers, migrant domestic workers etc.

According to International Labour Organization, currently there are at least 53 million domestic workers worldwide

Data analysis of the National Sample Survey Organisation NSSO (61st Round, 2004-5) reveals a figure of approximately 4.2 million domestic workers in the country. Some Indian states have made well meaning attempts to protect the rights of domestic workers. While Tamil Nadu has included domestic workers in the Manual Workers Act and even created a separate board, Maharashtra has drafted bills which are under discussion. Under Section 27 (A) of the Maharashtra State Public Service Conduct Act, 1997, the Maharashtra government prohibits the employment of children below the age of 14 as domestic workers. Wages of domestic workers has always been a matter of concern amongst those who draft labour laws. 18 states apart from Maharashtra have code of conducts in their books related to domestic workers. For instance, Karnataka has notified minimum wages for domestic workers and Kerala has followed suit.

 The Government of India has amended the Central Civil Service Conduct rules to prohibit Civil Servants from employing children below the age of 14 as domestic workers. The two draft bills brought out in 2008 by the National Commission for Women and the National Campaign Committee of Unorganized Sector Workers are amongst the latest efforts to address the concerns of domestic workers in the country.

It is of no doubt that most domestic workers are from the marginalized communities, making them prone to prejudice and bias. Female domestic workers, especially those who live in their employer’s home, are often victims of sexual abuse. According to  Women in Informal Employment Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO), the most prominent and important demands of domestic workers are for recognition of domestic workers as workers, decent working conditions, including specified working hours, leave, paid holidays, protection against harassment, social security and access to benefits and regulation of recruitment and placement agencies. It is high time these demands became a reality.