Ten years after ILO pact, domestic workers’ struggles continue

Mercy Shaji of Kottayam may count herself lucky. A domestic worker, Mercy is picked up by her employers thrice a week since she does not have a vehicle nor public transport is available to reach her workplace. Mercy’s wages feed her family of four as her husband, a labourer, does not have work due to the lockdown.

Many domestic workers, though, have lost their jobs in the wake of the pandemic. Others have not been able to travel to work owing to restrictions. A good number of them are single women, trying to provide for their families. While there is a moratorium on loan repayment, they worry about the steep interest rates when repayments resume, says Mercy.

Wednesday (June 16), International Domestic Workers’ Day, marks the 10th anniversary of adoption of the ILO Convention 189 stipulating decent work for domestic workers. India is a signatory to the convention, but is yet to ratify it. Instead of improvement in the conditions of domestic workers, neglect of their rights continues. There is little recognition of them as workers and essential service providers. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated matters.

Domestic workers’ organisations say nothing much has been done to support the ILO Convention. The National Platform of Domestic Workers and other organisations have now written to the Prime Minister and MPs seeking a comprehensive national legislation that will pave the way for ratifying the convention.

Out of labour laws

Sonia George, secretary, SEWA (Self Employed Women’s Association) Union, says the Code on Social Security passed last year does not recognise private homes as establishments or define an employer. So, in effect domestic workers remain out of the purview of labour laws, though they have been included under the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana and the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act.

Some domestic workers who are part of the Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Board get some benefits on paying a monthly contribution, but all domestic workers are not members of the board. Moreover, there is no employee contribution to the funds as there is no written contract with any employer. Nor is there equal support from the State.

Income support

Mridul Eapen, former member of the State Planning Board, says income support is what domestic workers need immediately. With ₹5 crore allocated for domestic workers in the State Budget for 2021-22, domestic workers’ organisations and private agencies should press the Labour Department to sanction some support to help them tide over the pandemic-induced crises.

Registration of domestic workers with the Labour Department is also imperative so that they become more visible and can get entitlements due to them, she points out. Employer responsibility is absent as most domestic workers work part-time in multiple households, leaving them more vulnerable.

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Printable version | Aug 1, 2021 5:38:07 PM |

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