Draft policy ready, better stop exploiting domestic helps

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NEW DELHI: The labour ministry has readied a national policy that confers rights, such as minimum wages and defined work hours, to domestic workers, bringing into the formal economy millions of people who have for long existed beyond its fringes. Domestic workers, estimated by the government at around 6.4 million and by non-government agencies at 10 times that number across India, could also be entitled to annual leave and sick leave, normal hours of work and compensation for overtime and social security coverage under the draft national policy prepared by the labour ministry.

“The draft will be circulated for inputs from other ministries and state governments, following which the labour ministry will prepare a note for the Cabinet,” director-general for labour welfare, Anil Swarup, told ET. The policy also includes rights such as making it mandatory for employers to provide healthy accommodation and sufficient food for live-in workers, a safe working environment, protection against sexual harassment, social security coverage including maternity benefits and formal registration with the labour department.

To make the proposals legally tenable and ensure their enforcement, the policy calls for amendments to legislations such as the Trade Union Act, the Payment of Wages Act, the Minimum Wages Act, the Maternity Benefit Act, and the Contract Labour Act. The policy has the backing of welfare agencies. “At present, domestic workers have nothing to fall back on. The national policy will establish a regulatory framework that will give them certain rights, including minimum wages, social security and protection against trafficking,” said Father Chetan of the Jharkhand-based National Domestic Workers Movement. He is also part of the taskforce that framed the draft legislation.

The policy is in line with employment standards recently adopted by the ILO for domestic workers, which mandates fixed work hours and minimum wages. While the proposed policy falls short of a national legislation for domestic workers, its effectiveness would depend on the Centre’s involvement. “There are seven states including Jharkhand that have brought domestic workers under minimum wages and many more that have implemented the health scheme, RSBY Act, after the labour ministry wrote to them,” Father Chetan said.

However, some warned that the policy would need to be properly implemented to ensure it does not just stay on paper. “It could be a toothless policy if necessary legislations are not changed and proper monitoring and enforcement is not done,” said a member of the task force who did not wish to be named. The labour ministry proposes to set up a monitoring committee comprising officials from the labour and women and child development ministries, representatives of domestic workers and employers.