Delhi govt drags its feet on draft bill on placement agencies

Delhi govt drags its feet on draft bill on placement agencies

AMBIKA PANDIT IN THE TIMES OF INDIA

NEW DELHI: The death of two girls allegedly trafficked from Jharkhand for domestic work in Delhi only underlines the harsh truth that there are no laws that govern domestic work. While the demand for a national legislation gets louder, the fact remains that Delhi government’s draft bill limited to placement agencies – that was put up for objections and suggestions last August – is nowhere close to becoming a law. The much announced and often cited panacea for the many ills surrounding domestic work, the draft bill may not become a law if it’s not finalized for approval of Delhi assembly before the monsoon session. The tenure of the current Congress-led government is coming to a close with the assembly polls scheduled for later this year.

The final contours of the draft which has drawn a lot of criticism from human rights and activist groups working with domestic workers are yet to be fixed. Top sources in the labour department pointed out that the latest delay was due to a debate over whether the ambit of the proposed legislation should be expanded to include workers beyond domestic workers engaged by placement agencies.

This issue was discussed at a recent meeting chaired by chief secretary DM Spolia. A consensus has been arrived at for now that the bill may be restricted to placement agencies for domestic workers. A meeting next month will take a final decision and put up the final draft for approval of the cabinet. Based on the objections and suggestions, some changes have been made to the final draft. For instance, it is now proposed to also register the link person who introduces the domestic worker to a placement agency to guard against trafficking and take measures against miscreants.

TOI had reported last August how the Delhi government’s draft Bill on placement agencies — aimed at reining in agents — had created a flutter among NGOs, with activists claiming it was riddled with loopholes. At that time, when the Bill was put up for objections and suggestions, it came under severe criticism from representatives of around 12 NGOs who voiced their concerns it’s provisions.

Rishikant of NGO Shakti Vahini, who is part of the investigations in the death of the two minor girls from Jharkhand, feels this case is a classic example of how domestic work needs legal regulations. “Just implementing an Act in Delhi will not help as the problem is national. Domestic workers are being brought from states like West Bengal and Jharkhand. It’s important to put in place a national plan of action for placement agencies to ensure coordination between states,” said Rishikant.

Social activist Subhash Bhatnagar too feels the government’s focus on regulating agencies is misplaced and monitoring employers who engage domestic workers is critical. NGOs want employers to be mandatorily registered with the state. Like in the case of the two girls from Jharkhand, most agents who bring girls to the city promising employment are exploiters not wanting to get themselves registered, say activists.

The Draft Delhi Private Placement Agencies (Regulation) Bill 2012 lays down that no agency shall employ, engage or deploy anyone under the age of 18 as a domestic help. Violation of the Bill’s provisions can fetch a jail term up to one year and a fine of Rs 20,000. The provisions state that only licensed individuals or private agencies can provide private domestic workers. The licences will be issued for a period of five years by a controlling authority comprising officers of the level of joint labour commissioner. All existing placement agencies are required to register with the state within three months of the new law being notified.

The Bill mandates a placement agency to display its licence at the office and maintain a register with records of domestic workers and employers. The labour department has been empowered to inspect and crosscheck these documents. The agency has to issue photo IDs to workers and inform the controlling authority about deployment of workers within five days of their getting employed. Each worker will have a bank account and a pass book in which their salary will be deposited.

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