Domestic Workers in India

Introduction

Most domestic workers are from the marginalized sections of society and a large number of them are migrant workers. Workers range from full-time to part-time workers, skilled and unskilled workers. The Draft National Policy on Domestic Workers as recommended by the Taskforce on Domestic Workers provides a definition of a domestic worker as: “For the purpose of this policy, the “domestic worker” means, a person who is employed for remuneration whether in cash or kind, in any household through any agency or directly, either on a temporary or permanent, part time or full time basis to do the household work, but does not include any member of the family of an employer:

Types of domestic workers, based on the hours of work and nature of employment relationship:

The domestic workers can be:

a) Part-time worker i.e. worker who works for one or more employers for a specified number of hours per day or performs specific tasks for each of the multiple employers every day.

b) Full‐time worker i.e. worker who works for a single employer every day for a specified number of hours (normal full day work) and who returns back to her/his home every day after work.

c) Live-in worker i.e. worker who works full time for a single employer and also stays on the premises of the employer or in a dwelling provided by the employer (which is close or next to the house of the employer) and does not return back to her/his home every day after work.”

Size and Significance

While no reliable statistics determine the number of workers in the sector, the data analysis of the NSSO (61st Round, 2004-5) reveals an approximate figure of approximately 4.2 million domestic workers in the country. The contribution of the workers in this sector is rarely computed within the economy.

Working Conditions

No formal contracts ensuring an employer-employee relationship, lack of organisation, poor bargaining power, no legislative protection, and inadequate welfare measures with no provision for weekly holidays, maternity leave and health benefits are the some of the key issues that need to be addressed. This lack of regulation has led to countless violations of domestic workers’ rights, including working hours ranging between 8 and 18 hours and the absence of any job security. Domestic workers invariably represent the more marginalized communities in society. Prejudice and bias related to social status is reflected very strongly at the workplace for many domestic workers. Female domestic workers, especially those who live in their employer’s home, are vulnerable to sexual abuse.

Wages

Wages for the domestic workers are determined by factors such as tasks performed, hours of work, their social status, skills (or the lack of it), the need for flexibility and other labour market conditions. There are on-going debates over the norms for setting wages. These debates include several tricky issues such as whether the wage ought to be time rated or piece rated, in kind, hourly or weekly, part-time or full time; based on house size or persons per household, over time; adjusted for boarding, include medical care and other necessities and multiplicity of employers.

For more information, see Background Note on Domestic Workers.

Law and Policies

Several states have attempted a variety of approaches to protect the rights of Domestic Workers. Tamil Nadu included domestic workers in their Manual Workers Act and created a separate board for them while Maharashtra is actively considering a law for them, with draft bills under discussion. Maharashtra has published a code of conduct. Under Section 27 (A) of the Maharashtra State Public Service Conduct Act, 1997, the Maharashtra government prohibits government employees from employing children below 14 as domestic workers. Such rules can be found in the rule books of 18 other state. Karnataka has notified minimum wages for domestic workers and Kerala has followed suit. The Government of India has amended the Central Civil Service Conduct rules to prohibit Civil Servants from employing children below the age of 14 as domestics.

The latest in a series of efforts to address the concerns of Domestic Workers are the two draft bills brought out in 2008 by the National Commission for Women and the National Campaign Committee of Unorganised Sector Workers also in 2008.

See full text of Law and Policies and a summary of court decisions.

Organisation and Voice

Organising domestic workers has been a huge challenge as the work place is inaccessible and multiple, marked by a high rate of attrition and instability. As a result, the demand for the better wages or working conditions through an organized union has been weak and scattered. A strong and well organized work force has been pivotal in ensuring progressive policy and legislation, while simultaneously enabling better enforcement of existing legislations.

Platform of Demands

Some of the specific demands of domestic workers are:

a) recognition of domestic workers as workers.  

b) decent working conditions, including specified working hours, leave, paid holidays, protection against harassment, social security and access to benefits

c) regulation of recruitment and placement agencies.

For a detailed discussion, see Concept Note and Report of Consultation with MBOs in the sector.