World Domestic Workers' Day: A missive to Modi on the COVID-induced plight of domestic workers

Domestic workers, cleaning, water tap
Image courtesy: Shutterstock

On the eve of the 10th anniversary of International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 189, on decent work for domestic workers, Self Employed Women's Association (SEWA) has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi describing the worsening condition of domestic workers in these pandemic times. The ILO Convention 189 was adopted on June 16, 2011. June 16 is also observed as the International Day of Domestic Workers.

The SEWA, in its letter to the Prime Minister, has put forward a slew of demands. The most important of them is the need for India to adopt the ILO Convention 189, which speaks about the rights of domestic workers. Twenty-nine countries have ratified the ILO Convention 189, and India is not among them.

Other major demands are: One, enact a comprehensive legislation for domestic workers. Two, till the legislation is made, register all domestic workers in the Labour Department. Three, provide cash compensation of Rs 7,500 for the number of days of work lost as per the Disaster Management Act. Four, extend the 100 days of work under the MGNREGA to the urban areas. Five, include domestic workers in the priority list for vaccination. Six, like in the case of other categories of workers, make employers' contribution to Domestic Workers' Social Welfare Board mandatory

Domestic workers, being in the informal unorganised sector, fall outside government records. "Till date there is no exact data on the numbers of domestic workers in the country but conservative estimates say there are over 30 million and the numbers are swelling as other work opportunities for poor informal workers diminish," the SEWA letter said.

It is estimated that the majority of domestic workers are women, and also single mothers. This is also their sole means of livelihood. Yet, they have neither recognition or protection as workers.

It is also said that more than half of them have lost their jobs after COVID-19 struck and with no social welfare back up, the survival of their families are at risk. The SEWA's Kerala chapter, for instance, reports that over 75 per cent of workers registered under them have lost their jobs during the pandemic.

"During this pandemic, which is over 15 months now, they have suffered badly as employers refused work for fear of the virus. The majority of them lost wages. Those that did permit them to work, demanded more work and paid less while they had to spend more money to get to work as there was no public transport for several weeks," the SEWA letter said.

With their only source of income drying up, domestic workers found it hard to meet the health and education needs in the family. In a state like Kerala, those above 60 get a social security pension of Rs 1,600. But younger domestic workers are denied this even in a welfare state like Kerala.

The Centre's decision to amend labour laws has also threatened the welfare of domestic workers. "The changes in labour laws have not brought any solace to the rights of domestic workers. They are also specifically excluded from the Code on Health and safety. Although there are directions that all informal workers be registered in the Welfare Boards for the Unorganised Sector, no proactive steps are made to register domestic workers. Moreover, there are little or no funds to provide social security, particularly health and housing benefits," the letter said.

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