Domestic helps want law to protect wages, working conditions

New Delhi, April 25 (IANS) Domestic workers Thursday urged the central government to work out and pass a comprehensive legislation that would fix wages and ensure social protection to millions of them.

The National Platform for Domestic Workers, a forum of various trade unions and domestic worker organisations in the country, has launched a campaign to highlight the working conditions of an estimated 4.75 million domestic workers, mostly women.

A large number of these workers come from vulnerable communities who are poor, illiterate and unskilled. The forum sought protection of employment, and provisions for social security, housing, childcare facilities, and pension for them.

It also demanded a tripartite board, with elected representatives of workers on it, as the instrument for implementation of the legislation. “Such board should be autonomous in order to function effectively, like the provident fund trust,” the forum demanded at a meeting.

“We are saying since the government has signed the Convention 189 – Decent Work for Domestic Workers – at the ILO (International Labour Organisation) in June 2011, it becomes binding on the government to adopt the convention as it makes domestic workers eligible for rights,” said Nalini Nayak, convenor of the forum and general secretary of Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA).

“However, the government has not ratified the convention but has developed a national policy, which has not yet been notified,” Nayak told IANS.

Asserting that there are a few non-negotiable aspects that must be included in the legislation, Nayak said only a comprehensive legislation can provide the domestic workers their rights.

She said the condition of domestic workers in south Indian states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu is better than that in the northern states.

“In the first phase of the campaign, the platform submitted a memorandum to all members of parliament, members of various standing committees, and in states to all MLAs. It highlights the measures that can be taken to make this legislation operable,” Nayak said.

She said the platform will observe a day’s strike on the International Domestic Workers Day on June 16 and would hold a rally in Delhi during the monsoon session of parliament.

Raka Singh of All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) said the domestic workers in major cities, including the national capital, are treated like bonded labourers.

“In VIP area, where ministers and bureaucrats reside, the domestic workers are just given a room, usually a space in their garage, and made to work round the clock. They are not given wages or provided with any social security,” she said.

“In most houses, the domestic workers are not allowed to use house toilets, not allowed to drink water from common taps and, in fact, there are separate glasses for them as majority of these help come from marginalised communities,” said Raka Singh. “The pet dogs are valued more and treated better than the domestic helps in the city.”

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