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Protect domestic workers

Published : Saturday, 8 September, 2018 at 12:00 AM  Count : 424

Protect domestic workers

Protect domestic workers

Domestic workers are one of the most vulnerable sections of the labour force. At present domestic work sector is totally an informal sector. Nearly every middle and upper class family in this country employs some form of domestic help, but while the workers are a mainstay in houses and apartments across the country, the terms of their labour are far from clear contract. Most of the cases no contract exist between the employer and the employee specifying terms and conditions related to matters such as hours of work, specific nature of work, wages, leave, food and accommodation and measures within the scope of the employment.

Long working hours, poor salaries, taunts and beatings, sexual abuse, even murder, have often made life a living hell for domestic servants. Sadly, the absence of viable job alternatives and education leaves them with few options. It should be mentioned here that the ILO Domestic Workers Convention, 2011, ratified by 17 countries, guarantees fundamental rights to domestic workers, including the right to decent and secure work.

Substandard working conditions are one of the primary grievances of domestic helps. Many are lured into homes with the promise of a good life and a decent salary. What they find when they arrive is something altogether very different. It is hard to state with any accuracy the number of domestic workers in the country. It is difficult to get even a conservative estimate. Domestic workers are largely invisible, isolated and scattered among thousands of homes and apartments. The bulk of the sector is fuelled by a steady stream of mostly uneducated rural women who flock to urban centres in search of work.

Stories of paternalistic and charitable behaviour of employers towards domestic workers circulate in society: financial help through zakat etc. But society must accept that acts of charity -- annual or irregular -- are no substitute for legal entitlements, labour rights and human dignity. Organising domestic workers is a big challenge due to their atomised, closed, private workplaces. The trade union movement in the country has failed to mobilise workers in the informal sector. In this context, government actions are necessary in protecting domestic workers from abuse.

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