P. Sujatha Varma

National Domestic Workers Movement demands inclusion in employment schedule

VIJAYAWADA: If proposals of National Domestic Workers Movement (NDWM) are implemented, domestic helps will enjoy all the benefits of a regular employment. "For years, domestic workers have been among the most exploited of all - toiling for long hours for meagre pay and often subjected to abuse by their employers," laments Nirmala, city coordinator of the NDWM.

After working for 18 long years in Nirmala High School in the city as a Telugu pundit, Sr. Nirmala has donned a new role. "This is both a novel and a noble cause. Because these workers know little about the law, employers almost always get away with such abuses," she says.

Reminding that maids or domestic help are an integral part of modern households, she says the main objective of the movement is to encourage them to stand up for their rights. "It is very unfortunate that we Indians, refuse to acknowledge the dignity of labour. That perhaps explains the shabby treatment given to them," she contends.

Sr. Nirmala has three persons to assist her in the endeavour. They identify and visit slums where a large number of domestic workers reside, interact with them and apprise her of the prevailing circumstances.

While taking up their cause with the authorities concerned, members of the NDWM advise these workers to be faithful to their employers. "Our role does not end with enlightening them on their rights and responsibilities. On the sidelines, we make use of the proximity [with them] to pressure them to send their children to school," she explains.

The NDWM demands immediate steps to include domestic work in the schedule of employment; have identity cards issued to them by the department of labour; and constitute a separate board to address their problems. Other demands are fixed wages on hourly basis, weekly-offs and 15 days of annual leave with pay, provision for ESI and PF, pension for the old and widowed, allotment of house sites, issue of white ration cards and grant of educational assistance for children of domestic workers.