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The widespread exploitation of domestic workers desperately demands a national strategy to ensure social and economic security. In the absence of a comprehensive program, domestic workers are freely mistreated: since the sector is essentially unorganized, these workers are at the whim of their employers and suffer from abject hardship, little or no education, and a competitive market for employment resulting in low salaries. The forthcoming national reform structure for domestic workers—if and when it is enacted by Parliament—needs to offer social security, enforce a minimum wage and reach a high amount of production per day.
Problems faced by Domestic Workers –
The challenges faced by domestic workers today are wide-ranging and complex. In order to provide successful protection against them, we can provide a thorough understanding of the weaknesses and concerns of staff. First, the absence of collective bargaining, combined with a massive supply of employees, has resulted in poor pay for domestic workers, which only favors the comparatively well-off employer at the expense of marginalized domestic workers. Despite the heavy workload, most domestic employees are paid deplorable salaries. Especially part-time and live-in staff are missing out due to a lack of union membership. However, the risks for living employees are greater, since they are entirely reliant on the employer with both monetary and non-monetary services. Requirements for basic food and accommodation, working hours, working days, overtime, and other such problems form an inseparable part of their jobs, which cannot be dealt with exclusively by laws on monetary considerations, such as minimum wages. In this sense, part-time employees are usually comparatively less vulnerable than live-in workers, since the limited period of time spent in multiple households decreases the total insecurity and dependency on one single subsistence employer.
Second, there is a shortage of skill growth of domestic workers. In order to resolve their situation adequately, we must take into account the effect of technological inventions on their livelihoods. Most of the work done by both types of domestic workers is of low skill and involves mechanical work, such as washing dishes or garments, sweeping and dusting, ironing, and so on. With the rise of the middle class, which is the main source of jobs for domestic workers, there is an increased possibility of losing them. Domestic staff with electrical equipment, such as dishwashers and washing machines. With the rise of the middle class, which is the primary source of growth jobs for domestic workers are on the rise in the chances of replacing domestic workers with electronic equipment such as dishwashers and washing machines. To some degree, the effect of technological development has so far been offset by the growing scale of the Indian middle class. However, the growing modernization of India’s middle class is expected to intensify the problem in the future. In addition, rising inequality, which is also a concern. Indicator of decreased mobility between class boundaries, the industry demand for low-skilled domestic workers is very low. Once it comes to skills growth, a part-time domestic worker is at a disadvantage relative to a live domestic worker. The learning of expertise in part-time domestic workers is mostly restricted to the basic jobs they do in various homes, such as washing dishes or garments. There is no development in non-mechanical skills, such as cooking, among most part-time workers. Live-in staff, who are usually hired to perform a number of household tasks, acquire significant non-mechanical abilities, including certain administrative skills. However, it is important to educate all these types of domestic workers in order to secure their livelihoods.
Third, domestic workers in India frequently suffer workplace harassment. In India, people belonging to the lower strata of society usually have no knowledge of the rights and remedies open to them. Moreover, given their reliance on a basic subsistence income, there is little to no alternative but to accept exploitative working conditions for economic survival. Even in those few situations where they are seeking to uphold their rights, they face systemic complacency and bigotry. Owing to the lack of any disciplinary regime in families, employers are left to their hands, often suffering sexual or physical violence without redress. Live-in domestic workers have little contact with others other than the employer and the employer’s families and must count on them for shelter, food, and basic financial stability. As a result, domestic employees are more likely to face and endure abuses by the employer or the employer’s families, leaving them particularly vulnerable. Part-time domestic workers, though still insecure, prefer out-of-work experiences, such as with friends and relatives, and are less likely to accept violence.
Fourthly, domestic workers in India are typically discriminated against. In India, the definition of domestic workers, particularly domestic workers, represents the vestiges of class discrimination and caste discrimination. Employees reinforce racist conduct. Live-in domestic workers are inevitably assigned to a lower household role. The fact that these domestic workers often come from marginalized parts of society makes them vulnerable to more socio-economic prejudice. The inequality of power between the employer and the domestic worker, with the employer exercising authority over the domestic worker, combined with a sense of caste or classical dominance over the domestic worker, leads to coercion and brutal oppression of the domestic worker. Domestic workers usually internalize sexism, leading to far-reaching psychological effects, including a lack of independence. As a result of such segregation, insufficient nutrition is given to domestic workers. Domestic workers, particularly domestic workers, are primarily dependent on the employer for their everyday nutritional needs. However, the employer pays little or no heed to the food needs of domestic workers. In reality, workers are sometimes reduced to the lowest priority. Much of them are fed with essential staple food and in small amounts. This systematic lack of proper nutrition over decades has had significant health implications for domestic workers and their children.
Fifthly, domestic workers are deficient in some sort of social security. Like other informal sector jobs, part-time and live-in domestic workers have no access to social protection, such as insurance care, welfare payments, or maternity benefits. Since salaries for domestic workers are mostly already below the minimum wage, the absence of social security has a paralyzing effect on their livelihoods in cases of health complications and is most often attributed to systemic nutritional malnutrition. In addition, a large number of domestic workers are women who have been sexually assaulted by their husbands in their personal lives and have little to no say in childbirth. Within lack of maternity benefits, most of them eventually lose their job, guaranteeing a low wage. They are scarcely regarded as ‘workers,’ according to them a poorer status in society and, subsequently, in the economy, even relative to other workers in the informal sector. There is a need for a degree of economic independence to engage successfully in a free-market environment and to recognize one’s capabilities. Adequate social security will mean that they are in a position to behave in their economic interest without being constrained by their immediate financial needs. It will serve as a buffer to mitigate income losses and allow them to deal with any shock.
Legislative attempts to protect the interests –
The fate of the informal sector workers was largely neglected by the Indian Legislature. There is a lack of effective regulations to govern the terms of employment of domestic employees. This part aims to offer a thorough review of the bills and regulations that have sought to provide some protection for domestic workers.
- Minimum Wages Act, 1948 –
A few other provisions of the post regulations have been expanded to cover domestic workers in order to resolve such particular issues, such as the Minimum Wages Act, 1948, on the taxation of wages. At the conclusion of 2013, only eleven countries added domestic jobs to the Schedule to the Minimum Wages Act, 1948. More than half the states, as well as the large state of Uttar Pradesh, have yet to provide minimum salaries for domestic workers. Also, in most states that have notified minimum salaries for domestic workers, the compliance record is abysmal, removing all pragmatic disparities between states with or without minimum wages. No difference is made between the rural minimum wage and the urban minimum wage, based on the cost of domestic jobs. In most nations, there is no provision to limit working hours, which is highly troublesome for domestic workers, with the exception of the obligation to pay overtime salaries.
Also read: Morality of Child Labour Laws in India
- Sexual Harassment Act, 2013 –
In order to counter sexual abuse in domestic households, the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (‘Act of 2013’) aims to safeguard domestic employees by the creation of a district-level dispute resolution mechanism: The Central Grievances Council, which has the authority to grant monetary compensation. This Act is not designed to deal with transgressions of a more severe sort, as is required in the case of domestic workers. Not only has the Act of 2013 been plagued by a variety of gaps and insufficient provisions, but even the current provisions have stayed essentially unidentified and unoptimized.
- Employees’ State Insurance Act, 1948 –
In 2016, the Labor Ministry expanded the provision of Employees’ State Insurance (ESI) to domestic workers in Delhi and Hyderabad as a pilot project. Just restricted medical services under the program have been applied to them, leaving out sickness benefits, maternity benefits, injury benefits, dependent benefits, and other needs-based benefits beyond their control. In comparison, domestic workers have been categorized as self-employed, thereby failing to consider domestic space as a workplace where benefits such as minimum pay, working conditions, and so on need to be controlled. Although the system can offer modest relief for certain employees, there seems to be another scattered effort to protect domestic workers where laws designed for the formal workforce are unilaterally changed for the informal sector.
- Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008 –
Another important law, equally directed at the whole unorganized market, is the Unorganized Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008 (‘Act of 2008’). While the Act of 2008 covered domestic workers in the unorganized industry, it did not identify domestic workers, making it impossible to enforce the Act. The National Social Security Board and the State Social Security Board shall be formed in each State under this Act. The board has a tripartite representation of unorganized employees, employers, and the state, and proposes social insurance programs for unorganized workers. Unlike the 2004 Bill, registration under the Act is free. Although the creation of boards for unorganized employees in the sector is a welcome development in accordance with international experience, the National Social Security Board and the State Social Security Board are largely confined to advisory and supervisory positions in the design and execution of schemes. While the Act allows for registration, the whole process is assigned to the district administrators.
- Judicial Attempts –
The judiciary has recognized the situation of domestic workers in the lack of concrete labor legislation to protect their interests. The Delhi High Court tried to fill this void by proposing recommendations to the Child Welfare Committee and the Delhi Women’s Commission that, inter alia, offer some welfare benefits for domestic workers. The two bodies have been empowered to order the employer or the recruiting agent to award benefits to the domestic worker in cases of significant injury sustained during work and offer medical support to domestic workers on the grounds of allegations made by the domestic worker, his guardian, or the employer.
Domestic employees experience severe fiscal, physical, and sexual abuse with little to no redress due to the combined effect of a lack of specialized laws, a lack of knowledge of appropriate legislation, and an inadequate application of established legislation. After a thorough study of the main challenges faced by domestic workers and global best practices, it is clear that we need separate laws and legislative frameworks to solve the problems of domestic workers.
One of the most critical basic requirements for achieving enforcement is for domestic workers to be aware of their rights and for employers to be accountable and responsible. The task of having legal knowledge, particularly in the first few years of the implementation of a special protection system, cannot be overstated. Economic rewards are an important way to ensure compliance. The implementation of criminal provisions for non-compliant employers is another approach followed to ensure compliance. Although monetary penalties should be implemented to enable workers to make donations on time, they should not be too severe. Penalties, such as incarceration, may be too harsh for late donations and should not preferably be levied on families, lest they decrease demand for domestic labor and become counter-productive.
Author: Jaya Singh, Amity University.
Editor: Kanishka Vaish, Senior Editor, LexLife India.