Trade union activists and those working with the informal sector may be rejoicing over the historic Convention on Domestic Workers adopted by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) last week, that recognises the rights of domestic workers as worker rights and specifies standards for regulation of their employment and working conditions. But one community that is indifferent — rather ignorant — is the domestic workers themselves.

General enquiries made from the neighbourhood maids drew a blank, with not even one having any clue regarding the Convention adopted at the 100th annual conference of the ILO in Geneva.

“These are big talks. All these things happen only in foreign countries, not in India. People will throw us out, rather than give us all these rights,'' said part-time maid Hansa.

And her fears were not unfounded. There were many employers who expressed hidden fears about the Convention making maids and other domestic workers like drivers, garbage-collectors, and watchmen too “aggressive” and difficult to find. “As it is, they act so pricey. With more rights, they will become impossible,” said Veena Sharma, a professional whose household virtually depends on maids.

The Convention requires Governments to bring domestic workers within the ambit of labour legislations on minimum wage, working hours, day of rest in a week, overtime wages, terms of employment, social security, and maternity protection. It also contains detailed requirements for Governments to regulate private employment agencies, investigate complaints and lays down special measures for migrant workers.

As per ILO estimates, 83 per cent of domestic workers are women or young girls, and therefore the Convention obliges Governments to protect them from violence and abuse, and to ensure effective monitoring and enforcement. Most importantly, the Convention recognises the right to association of domestic workers, giving respect for fundamental principles and rights at work including freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. The Convention will become binding on member countries once they ratify and make it part of their national legislation.

India has already formulated a National Policy for Domestic Workers, along with the National Advisory Council (NAC) making recommendations.

“We urge the Government to take this forward, and immediately legislate for Domestic workers that will ameliorate the condition of millions of poor working women, giving them their due recognition, dignity and self respect, along with ensuring decent living wage, social security and protection against workplace harassment, including sexual harassment,” the New Trade Union Initiatives have said in a statement here. Urgent ratification and timely implementation of the Convention will bring a change in the lives of a large section of working women, the statement said.

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