On Behalf of Exploited Domestic Workers, A Call for Justice

For women like Meena, overworked, abused, and poorly compensated for 11 grueling months of domestic work, avenues for legal recourse against her abusive “employer” are limited, and in some cases completely non-existent. Currently, there are no laws to protect domestic workers from abusive working conditions, inevitably resulting in cases of gross misconduct on behalf of employers and hiring agencies. According to Infochange:

Although the house is a domestic worker’s workplace, there are no laws to regulate the working conditions in it. The domestic worker is officially not a worker and cannot have recourse to the labour laws or labour courts, should a dispute arise with the employer or the agency. There is no prescribed minimum wage for domestic workers in most parts of India.

The conditions in which many residential domestic workers are forced to work are akin to trafficking and violate several laws including the Bonded Labour Act. In many cases the practice also violates the Child Labour Act and the Juvenile Justice Act.

Unfortunately, women like Meena are not alone. Nowadays, “placement agencies”, which “supply” potential “employers” with domestic workers, usually from impoverished villages, are cropping up across India. Here are the tactics agencies utilize to exploit labour (read more after the break):

The placement agency racket is a lucrative one, with employers willing to hand over anything from Rs 3,000-Rs 10,000 as ‘registration fees’ for a residential domestic worker. Agencies get a regular supply of workers by sending ‘agents’ out to recruit girls from impoverished villages in states like Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and West Bengal. Since they make a commission of a thousand or more rupees per recruit, they are anxious to find girls and lure them with false promises of good jobs, smart clothes and plenty of money. Many of the girls are minors and are easily impressed.

Once in the city, the agent hands them over to the placement agency, which is usually just a room in a cheap locality, with an office table and chairs and a board proclaiming it to be a “registered” establishment. The girls cook in a corner and sleep on the floor until they are found jobs. It is not unusual for agency owners or agents to harass the girls sexually, even rape them.

Not only do agencies get a fat commission, many also collect the girls’ wages every month directly from the employer. The girls themselves are never consulted and their views are ignored.

Just as domestic workers’ rights are not protected by the government, there are currently no laws in place to regulate placement agencies, which are not required to register with any civic bodies, labour departments, or the police. Neither are they issued official licenses for legal operation, thereby making domestic workers’ rights advocacy all the more difficult. According to the article, the profits from this unregulated industry are tremendous:

Yet the money involved is massive and the agency racket is growing, with kickbacks to the police to ensure a trouble-free existence. An agency that places 10 girls a month could make an easy Rs 50,000 in registration fees alone, and Rs 20,000 every month thereafter (Rs 5,000 per head for registration; Rs 2,000 per head per month as wages).

In order to combat these gross human rights vioations, the National Commission for Women (NCW) recently held a national-level consultation to “discuss the draft of a law for domestic workers”:

The draft law envisages mandatory registration of workers, employers and ‘service-providers’ or placement agencies — a step that’s essential to track down missing girls and missing agencies. The registration authority will be state and district-level boards that will enjoy some of the powers of civil courts and be able to look into complaints, enter households to rescue workers, order the attendance and cross-examination of any person, call for the production of documents, etc. The draft law also envisages the setting up of a welfare fund to provide social security to domestic workers. It recommends that no one below the age of 18 be employed in domestic work.

Meanwhile, the National Campaign Committee for Unorganized Sector Workers has prepared a draft law with similar stipulations. At ThinkChangeIndia, our hope is that this legislation provides women like Meena the legal protection they deserve as workers, and even more fundamentally, the dignity and respect they are entitled to as human beings.

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2 Responses

  1. i am happy to read an excellent article by you on domestic workers, and would like to know whether the
    national commission for women came out with a law or not?
    congrates to the energetic and enthusiastic team
    shouri

  2. Hi i found this article very interesting. i am doing my master thesis on domestic workers and i would be happy if you give me any material that is about domestic workers.

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