“Cleaning the tables, mopping the floors,
They are the ones actually doing the chores.
Never given enough credit for their work and dedication
Sadly, they are treated as inferior beings in our nation.
They are not from family yet become an integral part of our home
Easing the sphere of everyone’s comfort, but never their own.”
The above lines portray the chilling pain and misery that our domestic help goes through. Domestic work which falls into the informal category of work is characterised by no minimum wage, no job security, no fixed timings and more of such evils. 80% of it being women, face more hardships as they run their own families, taking care of their own children, apart from going out for work. This double whammy hits them hard in stomach and mind. Already being vulnerable owing to their humble background, they are rendered helpless by the State also as there is no dedicated policy to deal with their issues.
The SHE guidelines and Unorganized Workers Social Security Act 2008 are just not enough to solve their problems. They fall short in addressing the specific concerns of this section. Sexual exploitation, violence and verbal abuse are the problems they have to face every day just to earn meagre wages to feed their family. So their problem is not only about the remuneration but also an assurance of dignity and a safe work environment.
Let me give you a real-life example. The residential society that I live in is marked with an irrational division. The lifts are labelled as service and residents.
What is the need for this segregation?
Security is one thing but the suspicion of their existence is blatantly wrong. The residents have also lost their sense of morality when it comes to the way they treat them. The resident and domestic worker’s relationship can be seen as so brutal as it was with the British and native Indians. Why are they made to feel at every gate and lift that they are the lesser children of God?
India claims to be moving towards “Sabka Saath Sabka Vikaas”, but not all the sections are getting benefits. As there is no standard data ready on domestic workers, their strength in the population goes unnoticed. On an international platform, India is yet to ratify the International Labour Organization Convention 189 adopted in 2011 to “offer specific protection to domestic workers”. Such step displays the ill-committed dedication of our government towards this set of people. Not even one among all the election candidates puts the domestic workers as their priority in the election manifesto. Till the time they don’t become a part of our developmental plan, the so-called success of our nation is half-won.
The Domestic Workers (Decent Working Conditions) Bill by Dr Kirit Premjibhai Solanki is a healthy start to address the hardships of these vulnerable sections. It is the necessary step which ensures justiciable rights to them.
The bill clearly defines and regulates the work performed by the domestic workers – 8 hours a day of work, regular intervals of rest periods, and double the standard wage rate in case of overtime, with paid annual leaves, sick leaves, food and accommodation. With these salient features, it seems that if passed, the Bill can become a tool of empowerment for domestic workers.
I really hope to see the passage of this bill before my eyes in this very lifetime, seeing all those domestic workers getting the appreciation for their work, that they have deserved for a long time.