Why India’s millions of domestic workers have no legal protections in the country and abroad | In Focus podcast

Sonia George explains the legal position of domestic workers in India, why a bill to protect their rights has been pending for years and what happens when workers from India go to other countries.

Updated - July 08, 2024 05:52 pm IST

Published - July 08, 2024 04:12 pm IST

A few weeks ago, the richest family in Britain, the Hinduja family, was convicted in a Swiss court and four of its members were given a prison sentence for exploiting their domestic workers, brought from India to a villa in Geneva. They were accused of paying the workers a pittance, making them work long hours and not allowing them to leave the premises. The family has said it will appeal the verdict, but the case throws a spotlight upon an issue that has long been neglected in India – the rampant exploitation of domestic help in the country and abroad.

India has not ratified the International Labour Organisation’s Domestic Workers Convention No. 189 which advocates for their rights nor the ILO’s Forced Labour Protocol which would make it mandatory for countries to safeguard the interests of workers.

India is estimated to have about 50 million domestic workers, largely women, primarily drawn from the five states of Assam, Odisha, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, with hundreds of thousands migrating within the State, to other States and abroad, but a law to protect their rights – which would cover their wages, working hours, holidays and other rights – has been pending with the Central government for some years now.

So what is the legal situation of domestic workers in the country? Why is the government dragging its feet on bringing about a national legislation to protect them? Are the many recruitment agencies that have mushroomed across the country, subject to regulation? What happens when our workers go abroad? How do other countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines protect their workers?

Guest: Sonia George, national vice president, of the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) and Asian executive member, International Domestic Workers Federation

Host: Zubeda Hamid

Edited by Jude Francis Weston

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