They cook, sweep, scrub and make homes cleaner places to dwell in, but their labour is seldom recognised as work. The benefits that many employees enjoy including safe working conditions, minimum wages, holidays and medical insurance are denied to them, felt domestic workers at a meeting on Sunday to push for recognition of their labour as dignified work.
A tripartite meet comprising domestic workers, agencies, government officials and labour unions was organised by National Alliance for Social Security (NASS) to reach a consensus on demands. These demands would be presented to members of Legislative Assembly and Parliament to press the Central government to ratify Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189) of the International Labour Organisation, V.Maheshwaran, State coordinator, NASS.
“We are constantly under suspicion and mistrust. We rarely receive respect or kindness. Many domestic workers are compelled to work at five or six houses a day due to poverty and a desire to give our children good education,” said a woman speaking for domestic workers.
A few domestic workers are aware of the welfare board for domestic workers or benefits like scholarships for education and marriage assistance provided to members, said Panchapakesan, labour officer, social security project. Detailing the registration process, Mr. Panchapakesan said funds allotted to workers under SC and ST category remained unused for want of applicants. If the current scenario prevails there may be difficulty in obtaining further grants.
Mobilising domestic workers was a challenge as they are scattered and fear losing wages to attend awareness meetings, said T.Moorthy, senior labour officer, Central Board of Labour Education.
He encouraged them to join one of 17 unorganised sector welfare boards based on the virtue of their profession, be it tailoring, domestic work or construction work. Adopting unscrupulous measures will only make government officers lose trust. “There is a high demand for domestic help, so if you can deliver quality work employers may come forward to render the assistance you seek.”
V.Antony Stephen, head, department of social work, Holy Cross College, elaborated on convention number 189 and recommendation 201 of the ILO that governs decent work for domestic workers. R.Gayathri, researcher, Department of Women’s Studies, Bharathidasan University, threw light on the bill proposed by National Commission for Women that demands an identity for domestic workers and recognition of their labour as dignified work with entitlements.
M.Sreenivasan, Annai Illam, a Chennai based trust that places domestic workers, said regulation of placement agencies was necessary as there are unregistered agencies that do not have their interests at heart.