Hamsa M. has been a domestic worker for the past 18 years. Not much has changed in her life for close to two decades. “I used to get Rs. 200 then, and today I get Rs. 1200. At every point, it has been just enough to manage my family's expenses at that time,” she said. She cannot stop working, because her salary is the biggest source of income in the household. She gets no weekly holiday and when she has to take leave, she loses the day's income. Though she could not stand like the others, she took part in the demonstration organised by the National Domestic Workers Movement, demanding the ratification of the Domestic Workers Convention-189 and Domestic Workers Recommendation-201 which the International Labour Organisation adopted in June 2011.
Thursday's demonstration, held two days ahead of International Domestic Workers' Day, saw the participation of over 250 domestic workers. It was held to commemorate one year since the convention had been adopted. India had supported its adoption. The domestic workers' demands included ratification of the convention, which would recognise the rights of domestic workers and set standards for their work hours and conditions among other benefits, implementation of minimum wages, prevention of exploitation of migrant workers, and the inclusion of domestic workers under the Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill, 2010. They are also demanding that the minimum wage be set at Rs. 50, as opposed to Rs. 30, which was the wage set by a committee formed by the Labour Department.
“Domestic workers face a host of problems because there are no regularised wages, no social security, maternity leave, job security, no leave, and when there is a theft at the house, they become the first suspects,” said Josephine Amala Valarmathu, State Co-ordinator, National Domestic Workers Movement.
While K. Vijaya said that she is not given leave even on festival days, Haseena Begum said that her employer threatened to stop employeeing her if she kept asking for leave.
Vahida Nizam, Vice- President, All India Trade Union Congress, said that as is the case for organised workers, maternity benefits should be extended to domestic workers even if not to the same extent. “Rs. 3000 must be given for a period of six months, i.e. three months before the delivery, and three months after,” she said. She added that though the quantum of work put in by the domestic worker remains the same, the remuneration they receive depends on what the household can afford, and which neighbourhood the employer's house is located.
The woes of live-in domestic workers and several women who work as domestic workers in other countries is sometimes, much worse, said Ms. Josephine. Mallika V., 55, she said, had just returned from Kuwait, where she had been exploited by her employer. “Initially I was told that I was to take care of a child, and that they would pay me Rs. 12,000. But when I went there I was made to do all the household work, and was given only two to three hours of sleep. When I said that I could no longer work, they sent me to another house. I worked in three to four houses, but was not paid anything. I came back because of the intervention of the National Domestic Workers Movement,” said a terrified Mallika.
Representatives from several organisations such as Tamil Nadu Domestic Workers Union, TN Domestic Workers Welfare Trust, Arunodhaya Centre for Street and Working Children, Unorganised Workers Federation, Ponnurimai Iyyakam, Pon Thozhilalar Sangam, Annai Illam and AITUC participated.