Views & Reviews
International Domestic Workers Day
Year after year on June 16th International Domestic Workers Day is celebrated with great respect and appreciation to all the domestic workers.
Many of us confuse with the terms “Home Maker” and “Domestic Work”
Home maker is the one who maintains the upkeep of his or her residence, especially one who is not employed outside the home. But Domestic workers are those workers who perform work in or for a private household or households. Their work may include cooking, washing and ironing the clothes, taking care of children, elderly or sick, gardening, guarding the house. A worker may be employed either on a full time basis or a part time – time basis. Many define domestic work as caring rather than working. This is the main reason why it is often not regarded and rewarded like others so called “regular” work.
Why Domestic Work?
Reasons for domestic work can be divided into push and pull factors. The push factors include poverty, lack of education and lack of alternative income generating means, erosion of community protection networks, vulnerability of women and children, desire for higher standard of living, more opportunities and personal freedom. Pull factors could be economic factors – the demand for cheap labour for domestic work. Recruitment agencies often lure potential workers into the job with false promises and attractive packages.
Domestic Workers need strong regulation for their Rights
The fact that the workplace is a household should not deprive any domestic worker of his/her rights as a worker. Nor should it be an excuse for exploitation and abuse. All the worlds’ workers have rights, as stated by international instruments such as the UN Universal Declaration of Fundamental Human Rights. These include economic, social and cultural rights as well as labour rights. Domestic workers have not had these basic rights respected until now is utterly unjust. Domestic workers not only need an International ILO convention that sets out their basic rights. They need one that breaks through the misconceptions about who domestic workers are and the nature of the work that they do. No longer should employers have all the rights and enjoy the freedom to continue bad practices. Decent work for domestic workers is an effective way of reducing poverty for domestic workers, their families and communities. It will also lead to better quality of domestic for millions of householders and their families worldwide.
Myths about domestic workers-what “THEY” say
Domestic workers Are they – maids, servants or ‘helpers’ – do they really work?
Isn’t it just what many women do around the world, helping out with the domestic chores?
And surely it is as much love and care as actual ‘work’?
We support a convention but it shouldn’t have too many details. Then it can be adopted by the maximum number of countries.
Richer countries can implement more, but poorer ones do not have the resources to do so…
Legislating over working time in the domestic context is very complicated. It’s not possible to say what is ‘work’ time and what is ‘personal’ time, and so it is difficult to record working hours.
We accept that there are some terrible human rights abuses of domestic workers. But most are treated well by their employers. We can’t make standards or legislation too detailed just to deal with a minority of cases.
If we raise the standards of employment-such as giving domestic workers the right to a legal minimum wage-many employers will not be able to afford it.
They will stop employing domestic workers, and unemployment will rise.
If working conditions become too good, this will only attract more migrants, which can generate xenophobia.
How would such regulations to protect domestic workers be enforced?
Realities about Domestic Workers-what “ DOMESTIC WORKERS” say
For far too long there has been reluctance around the world to recognise that what domestic workers do in the homes of others is really ‘work’, and that those who do it are really workers’.
Domestic workers are not ‘helpers’; not ‘maids’; and not servants. Certainly none of the domestic workers should be slaves. They are ‘workers’.
Yes, the place where they work is the household, and that is a different type of workplace from a factory, a farm or an office. The scope of jobs that they do is wide – meaning in reality that many of them have a wide range of skills. They also work in many different types of employment relationship, from live-in full-time for one household to part-time for multiple employer. It is not the usual concept of ‘industrial relations’ and this does mean being imaginative about finding ways to solve our employment problems.
In fact, many ‘ordinary’ people are employers of domestic workers. Having someone else take care of their domestic environment enables them to go out and earn a living, be economically and socially active. They need them to maintain their homes and look after their children, sick and elderly.
They are the ‘oil in the wheels’ and, without them, many societies and economies simply could not function.
But why so many do not see this or fail to accept the fact that they are therefore employers – with the duties of employers towards their workers – remains something that we still have to solve. Of course, its roots lie in cultures – and therefore societies and economies – that see women’s roles as less ‘productive’, less ‘significant’, than men’s. They need more proactive public awareness-raising to shift such out-dated attitudes.
Many people seem to have difficulty in acknowledging the exploitation and abuse that so many domestic workers face. They want to believe or promote the idea that domestic workers are or somehow become ‘family members’.
Of course there are good employers. But this is not a relationship of equals. Even when they are members of the same family, they are more likely to be the ‘poor cousins from the rural areas’, and this ‘family’ relationship can be used to mask the unjust ways in which they are made to live and work. But there is more to it than this. It must be recognised that domestic workers do vital work for households. Many families simply could not manage without them. Some do not have the skills needed. Or, if more families do all their own domestic work, will they still have the same capacity to work outside the home, to contribute to the wider economy?
Governments should not adopt a simplistic attitude towards the added cost of giving domestic workers access to social security provisions or regulating migration better.
The basic point is that domestic workers have the human right to be included in working hours legislation, not treated as slaves and servants who are endlessly available to our employers.
In the absence of proper legislation and enforcement, employers are freer to exploit. Then, understandably, many migrant domestic workers run away from abusive employers. Often they become ‘undocumented’, especially where the employer has illegally kept their official documents
Awareness-raising programmes for employers– stressing their legal obligations as employers; promoting model contracts of employment and pay-slips, and information on social insurance schemes.
Therefore let us all be aware that domestic workers are workers, Domestic work is work. They are not helpers, servants but they are workers just like others. Therefore let us recognise them as workers, call them by name. Let the government include them in the schedule of employment, give them minimum wages, give access to all the welfare schemes.
To conclude: Let us respect the domestic workers in our homes. Allow them to have a weekly off, decent wage, annual leave, maternity benefits, decent living conditions and also pensions.
Today as we celebrate International Domestic Workers day let us acknowledge their contribution to my family, today let us wish them and pray for them. So that they start to believe that even my work is recognised and my employer appreciates me.
Sr. Pramila Lobo UFS
NDWM Nagaland Region Coordinator
MSW (Medical Psychiatric Social Work) , LLB