State needs to address the plight of domestic workers - Hindustan Times
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State needs to address the plight of domestic workers

May 25, 2024 10:00 PM IST

It is hard to understand why more effort is not being made to make it easier for women to stay in the workforce.

At a time when we are lamenting the decline of women in the labour force, it is hard to understand why more effort is not being made to make it easier for women to stay in the workforce. Hopefully, the new government will work on reversing the neglect of the domestic workers sector, predominantly comprising women. Many rely on them to manage homes, look after children and handle chores, enabling them to work or pursue other activities. The lack of a legal architecture for protecting those who work in our homes has created conditions of suffering, and even the educated class seems to overlook the value of domestic work.

There is no universal definition of occupational safety and health for domestic workers, and there is uncertainty regarding the responsibilities of employers in providing safe workplaces.(HT) PREMIUM
There is no universal definition of occupational safety and health for domestic workers, and there is uncertainty regarding the responsibilities of employers in providing safe workplaces.(HT)

A study by Jagori, an NGO, reveals the grim realities faced by domestic workers. Jayashree Velankar, director of Jagori, said, “They have no legal protection and though Delhi attempted a draft Bill earlier, nothing came of it. The definition of domestic work remains vague and occupational hazards are not legally compensated. For example, if a maid were to fall off a stool while cleaning, she would have no recourse to legal redress. Fearful of losing her job, she will keep quiet.” When domestic workers face abuse, unreasonable work hours, deprivation of sleep or food, or denial of access to toilets, they often leave rather than complain, fearing accusations of theft or being shut off from opportunities in the locality. An 18-year-old domestic worker in Delhi said, “My employers don’t let me leave early. I am scared to walk home as men make lewd remarks at me.” A 64-year-old in another city said, “They eat in front of us but don’t offer us food. They prefer throwing it away rather than giving it to the domestic help.”

For the past 15 years, Jagori has worked with women domestic workers (WDWs) in Delhi’s resettlement and low-income colonies to organise them, build identities, and advocate for fair, violence-free working and living conditions. The absence of legislation for WDWs and their exclusion from labour codes means private homes are not defined as “workplaces,” making domestic work dependent on negotiations with employers.

There is no universal definition of occupational safety and health for domestic workers, and there is uncertainty regarding the responsibilities of employers in providing safe workplaces. This affects their income, working conditions, and health. A significant percentage of WDWs (30%) reported that their work exacerbated medical conditions, leading to pain, weakness, and difficulty performing tasks. While health issues are not solely attributable to domestic work, there is an overlap between these and the tasks performed. Fatigue, joint pain, acidity, dizziness, allergies, etc, were among the health hazards identified.

The study highlights the need for comprehensive national legislation for domestic workers, priority registration of WDWs and their employers, defining occupational safety and health for domestic workers, and including them in the Code on Social Security. Additional recommendations include ratifying ILO Convention 189 on decent work and Convention 190 on violence-free work environments, recognising WDWs as “workers”, and including them in tax-funded public health programmes.

Jushya Kumar, lead researcher for the Jagori study said, “The lack of recognition of private homes as workplaces means that there is a complete lack of employer accountability, so it is critical to find ways to foster accountability. In the absence of any legislation, there needs to be at least a stronger demand for State-funded, longitudinal studies for in-depth analysis of occupational health and safety of domestic workers. It is crucial to challenge terms such as maid and house help and affirm their identity as working women engaged in paid domestic work by correctly referring to them as domestic workers”.

The views expressed are personal

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