Though they are in big demand, they are underpaid, overworked and have little or no bargaining power

Sanjana Gowda, a techie who lives in Rajarajeswarinagar, has been hunting for a domestic help for the last few months. She is willing to shell out “any amount” to someone suitable to help her clean her house, wash up utensils and do other chores. She says three other friends are “in desperate” need of domestic workers.

Clearly they are in big demand, given the nature of urban lifestyles. So it is ironic that domestic workers are underpaid, overworked and have little or no bargaining power.

Ideal wage

The State Labour Department, in 2011, mandated that these workers be paid Rs. 186 a day for household chores and Rs. 191 if it includes looking after children. However, most domestic help The Hindu spoke to are unaware of this and emphasise there is still no “formula” to evolve their salary. While the notification prescribes salary per day, many workers work in several houses a day, which makes fixing the salary more difficult.

Said Premamma (45), who has been working as a domestic help for 10 years: “Over the years we have learnt to ask for a salary dependant on how big the house is or the amount of work we do. While people from other professions are paid for the number of hours they put in or the quantum of work they do, we still have not evolved a mechanism to fix salaries.” Another domestic worker, Sarojamma (30) who lives in Kamakshipalya, said her repeated requests for a salary hike had been rebuffed. “I have been working in one house for nine years. My initial salary was Rs. 200, which is now Rs. 800. Initially I would only wash clothes. Now they make me clean the house and utensils as well.”

Her increased pay has come along with increased workload and extra hours of work. Most workers say their employers are well aware of their helpless situation. Sudha N. (33), a single parent, works in three houses to take home Rs. 2,300 a month. “I’m the sole breadwinner and I have three children. All my employers know this. But I can’t leave any of them as every paisa is important.”

After a long battle, domestic workers are now recognised under the Karnataka Unorganised Workers Social Security Board and can avail themselves of benefits under the scheme. But sources in the Labour Department pointed out that not one has enrolled for these programmes.

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