NEW DELHI: Still in a daze, the mother of the 14-year-old maid found dead at a house in an upscale Gurgaon locality, in January, kept up her demand for justice. The postmortem has established sexual abuse though the girl’s employers alleged suicide. Her account of the unhelpful police—no one has been arrested—at a public meeting packed with domestic workers on Tuesday once again pressed home the need for a central legislation to regulate this sector.
Now, domestic workers, under the banner of National Platform for Domestic Workers, a group of NGOs, have decided to knock on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s door, asking for the pending legislation to be enacted. In the summer of 2013, thousands of domestic workers converged on the streets of Delhi, demanding a central law. They submitted a petition to committees in both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha on July 31, 2013. The Congress-led UPA government had failed to enact the legislation and now, one and a half years later, men and women engaged in housework in cities are still waiting for their due.
The country is estimated to have over 50 million such workers. On Tuesday, household helps in the city came together to voice their concerns. The girl’s mother was among the workers who testified to the abuse and denial of workers’ rights before an eminent jury headed by the chairperson of the National Women’s Commission, Lalitha Kumaramangalam. Dr P M Nair, retd DIG (trafficking), now at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, and S C Srivastava of the National Labour Law Association were part of the jury. The organizer, NPDW, comprises trade unions and organizations of domestic workers from around the country. The participants who spoke were both full-time and part-time workers, including those trafficked for labour by individuals and unscrupulous placement agencies.
Besides a central legislation, NPDW also wants the ratification of the ILO Convention 189, Decent Work for Domestic Workers, which was passed in June 2011. The central law for domestic workers should regulate employment and work conditions, fix wages and hours, regulate placement agencies and provide a mechanism for resolution of disputes and protection of employment. Social protection provisions should include social security, health, education, childcare, housing, skill training and pensions, affirmed the NPDW.
Subhash Bhatnagar, activist and lead member of NPDW, said beginning with the Domestic Workers (Conditions of Employment) Bill, 1959, there’ve been many attempts to control this sector, but without success. The most recent attempt was the Domestic Workers (Conditions of Service) Bill, 2009. There still isn’t a central act to protect the largest and fastest-growing sector of employment for women in urban areas.