Rights of domestic workers in focus post-lockdown

 thehindu.com  10/18/2020 17:00:31 

The denial of salaries and loss of employment faced by domestic workers as well as harassment by employers and Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) meted out to them following the nationwide lockdown has brought into focus the need for safeguarding their rights. They have now brought out a manifesto demanding universal registration of employers and domestic workers and national comprehensive legislation.

A survey conducted in Bengaluru among 2,400 domestic workers during the first two weeks of May showed that 87% of the workers were told not to come to work after the lockdown and were not sure when they would be called to work. A staggering 91% of workers lost their salaries for April. It also found that nearly 50% of those above the age of 50 also lost their jobs during the lockdown. The study was conducted by the Domestic Workers Rights Union (DWRU), the Bruhat Bangalore Gruhakarmika Sangha (BBGS), and the Manegelasa Kaarmikara Union.

Another telephonic survey conducted in New Delhi by the Institute of Social Studies Trust with 35 women workers between April 23 and 28 recorded that nearly 83% of women reported severe to moderate economic crises as well as anxiety over job security. At the same time, responsibilities for handling domestic chores at their own homes and procuring daily essentials increased as police targeted men for violating lockdown rules. As many as 51% women also spoke about challenges in buying milk, vegetables and dry ration due to price hike and 57% are worried about paying rent.

Financial responsibilities

The report also shows that women employed as domestic workers often bear a disproportionate burden of not just unpaid work at their own homes, but also financial responsibilities. As many as 51% workers surveyed had unemployed spouses and 36% were divorced, separated or widowed women.

Also read: Domestic workers ignored during pandemic, says union

About 17 organisations and unions who work in Delhi-NCR joined hands to form the Network of Rights and Voices of Domestic Workers and to ensure the well-being of these women. They held discussions with domestic workers to prepare a manifesto of demands which calls for a minimum cash transfer to domestic workers under the National Disaster Management Act, universal registration of employers and domestic workers, national legislation, an urban employment guarantee scheme and strengthening of Local Committees at the district level where workers can complain about sexual harassment at workplace.

Also read: Experiencing the COVID-19 crisis through the eyes of a domestic helper

We engaged with district magistrates asking them to frame Standard Operating Protocols for domestic workers in their districts and to issue directions to RWAs to ensure better working conditions and job security. We have also shared a list of suggestions with parliamentarians and pressed for the need to include domestic workers under the social security code and board, better implementation of the Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act, 2013 and a comprehensive legislation for domestic workers, explains Shruti Batra, Project Manager, Jagori.

She adds that in the days to come the network will also hold discussions with RWAs and employers on the need for improving employer-employee relations and safer workplaces for domestic workers.

As per NSS 2005, there are 4.75 million domestic workers in the country, but this is likely to be a gross under-estimation. According to Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO), the actual figure could be as high as 50 million domestic workers in India. Yet they are no social security schemes specifically geared towards their needs. The recently passed Labour Code on Social Security does not cover households. As a result, domestic workers cannot avail of any social security and insurance benefits, provident fund, maternity benefit or gratuity. Also, the Code on Wages passed last covers domestic workers employed in houses with more than five workers, and therefore excludes a vast majority of these women.

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