Much has been talked about the plight of domestic workers but so little has been done to address the discrimination, exploitation, neglect, insecurity and numerous other issues they face on a daily basis. The official estimate of domestic workers in India is 4.2 million, while the unofficial estimate stands at 50 million, according to the National Domestic Workers’ Movement (NDWM), which has been fighting for the rights of this marginalised section of society since the 1980s. The International Labour Organisation has stated that women and children (especially girls) account for nearly 90% of domestic workers in India with 25% below the age of 14, most of them are extremely poor and illiterate. What does this figure indicate? Why do women and children constitute a major portion of this informal sector? It is illegal to employ children below 14 years of age except as a child artist or in a family business under the Child Labour Amendment (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 2016, but many still employ children as they are easier to manipulate, control and exploit besides costing less. This clearly indicates that many people who are in the position to change lives continue to knowingly exploit the weak for their personal gain.
It is also learned that the domestic workers in Nagaland state are at the mercy of the employers with no job security. The NDWM Nagaland region had recently stated that many lost their jobs due to the Covid-19 pandemic, some were underpaid and some not paid at all for their work. With no legal protection in place, domestic workers are dependent on their employers. They are often used during good times and fired during bad times. There are also cases where employers inflict emotional, physical and sexual abuse on domestic workers. This makes informal workers very vulnerable to exploitations in the form of less pay, prolonged working hours, mental and physical harassment, no leave policy, and are even denied humane working conditions, adding to feelings of inferiority and insecurity.
In a welcome change, the government of India recently launched e-Shram portal to help unorganised workers in the country access social welfare and other schemes. The union ministry of Labour and Employment has said that more than four crore people have registered for e-Shram card in less than two months. This will immensely help those in the marginalised unorganised workforce. However, more needs to be done to ensure domestic workers enjoy their basic rights, including minimum wages and that their vulnerability is not exploited. In the absence of a separate law to protect the interests of domestic workers, the Centre should accelerate the implementation of National Policy on Domestic Workers, which is said to be in the drafting stage. The policy, which has important features like the right to register as an unorganised worker, right to minimum wages, access to social security, protection of domestic workers from abuse and exploitation, establishment of a grievance redressal system, etc., will be a step in the right direction if realised. It’s high time policy makers seriously work towards aiding vulnerable sections of the workforce from perpetual physical and financial insecurity.
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