The process yet to gain momentum

V. Jaya is exhausted and has decided to quit. Her employer thought she was demanding too much and she felt that she was not being paid enough.

For several domestic helps like Ms.Jaya the deal seems unfair. Ahead of Labour Day, this segment of workers' long-pending demand for minimum wages is back in focus.

It was in 2007 that the State government announced that domestic workers in Tamil Nadu will be eligible for minimum wages under Part 1 of the Schedule to the Minimum Wages Act of 1948.

Subsequently, the government constituted a committee to study the nature of work and arrive at a fair wage that could be ensured for those working as domestic help. However, the process is yet to gain enough momentum to ensure a pay structure that would prevent exploitation of those working as domestic help.

“I was receiving Rs.1,200 a month. It seems like a substantial sum, but there was a lot of work. The house was really big, there were four bathrooms to be cleaned every day, clothes of four to five people to be washed and so on,” says Ms.Jaya, who is in her late fifties.

G.Rajasree looks fatigued. “I send my children to school and come here [employer's home] at 9 a.m. In addition to regular cleaning and washing, I help amma cut vegetables and I also take care of the baby. I am not paid extra for these. My salary is Rs.800 per month,”she says.

Many employers feel that their “maids” are too demanding in terms of salary and take leave often. “My maid is invariably late for work every other day. She said it's Rs.300 for every task. So I have employed her only for the sweeping and mopping. I give her saris for festivals. I give her food leftover from the previous day. But nothing satisfies her,” says R. Lakshmi, a resident of Adyar.

Old clothes and leftover food cannot be alternatives to a fair remuneration, say those working with women engaged in domestic labour. K.R. Renuka, executive director, Centre for Women's Development and Research, says that in its training sessions for such workers, the organisation insists that they avoid accepting old clothes. “What they need is a remuneration that corresponds to their work,” she says.

An estimated seven lakh women in Chennai are engaged in domestic labour. “The committee had initially decided that Rs.30 be paid for every hour of work. But factors such as the area of the home, the number of persons and the number of tasks should also be taken into account,” Ms. Renuka says.

Labour Minister T.M. Anbarasan said the committee with different stakeholders had decided upon a fair wage for domestic workers. “We have taken into account the opinion of workers across district. The government will be formed under the leadership of Kalaignar Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi and domestic workers can look forward to some good news after that,” he said.


Meera SrinivasanJune 28, 2012

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