Plight of Domestic Workers
Domestic workers have become an integral part of labour force across the globe, with millions of people, largely women and several underage peopleworking in this informal sector. The number of such workers is estimated to be a few crores in India alone. To celebrate their contributions to the economy, the world observes International Domestic Workers Day on June 16, the day the International Labour Organisation’s Convention on domestic workers was adopted, setting labour standards for them, and also to address their plight. Despite this convention coming into force in 2013, this group of workers are deprived of their basic rights in most parts of the world. With no social security scheme, legal protection and economic security, they were among the first to be hit by the pandemic-induced lockdowns, as households that once needed their services abruptly stopped over fear of exposure to the disease. It dealt a devastating blow to the livelihoods of millions of people by cutting off the very source of their income. They suffered in silence as their voices went unheard. There are not many organisations or individuals to fight for their rights. After having gone through a harrowing time during the prolonged lockdown and because of the thought that they could be rendered jobless any time, the fight for their rights and dignity could take a beating. Now that the pandemic situation has improved, they have returned to work, doing household chores and other manual works, but their plight and job insecurity remain.
Domestic workers in Nagaland have long been demanding the government to include them in the scheduled employment list of the Minimum Wages Act but their cries haven’t been heard yet. With no step taken for comprehensive registration of domestic workers, there is no credible data on the number of such workers in the state and the real picture may never surface as many households employ underage people, especially girls under the guise of providing them education. Some families may genuinely look into the welfare of their employees but without law to protect their rights, domestic workers in the state continue to face several issues like low wage, overworking, no leave, sexual abuse, etc. Sadly, complaints about physical abuse and harassment are swept under the rug, especially if it is associated with high profile personalities. In most cases, the civil society organisations and village councils intervene to solve criminal cases out of court using Naga customary law, which often victimises the victims instead of helping. Such lenient approaches don’t help anybody. It is time the law enforcing agencies set a precedent by giving befitting punishment to criminals based on the principle of equality before law.
The government had enacted Domestic Workers (Registration, Social Security and Welfare) Act, 2008 to provide social security to all unorganised workers including domestic workers but with the states being giving the task of formulating their own law and to maintain the database, it remains ineffective. This is why only a few states have included domestic workers in the schedule of the Minimum Wages Act till date. To effectively address the plight of domestic workers in the country, overarching national policy to oversee the working conditions of those in unorganised sector is a must. It is time the Centre approves the proposed draft National Policy on Domestic Workers and makes it legally binding.