A voice for Mumbai’s domestic workers

Ashali Bhandari, Mumbai Community Manager
Mumbai, 25 July 2016

In India, 84% of the non-agrarian work force is employed in the “informal” (also known as the unorganized) sector. The informal sector covers a vast range of employment, ranging from work that occurs in unregistered enterprises to work within formal organizations, where employers don’t guarantee labourers any social protection.

Over four million labourers of the workers in the informal sector are employed as domestic workers. These could be part-time, full-time, or live-in workers who are involved in tasks like childcare, cooking, cleaning, and/or hospitality at home. 70% of India’s domestic workers are based in urban areas, and 90% are women.

In Mumbai, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences conducted a study, which highlights the vulnerability of women working as domestic workers in the city: 56% of female domestic workers belong to marginalized and historically disadvantaged communities (Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe, or Other Backward Classes) and over 50% are illiterate. Almost all women do not have a formal contract of employment with their employer(s) and they earn an average of Rs.1964 (approximately USD 30) per month, despite most women working in 2 to 3 homes per day. Furthermore, over 70% of the women working are in debt and have outstanding loans.

Domestic work in metropolises like Mumbai is rarely unionized. Over the last three decades, the National Domestic Workers’ Movement (NDWM) has been advocating for the rights of domestic workers, children in domestic work and migrants in domestic work through capacity building programs and lobbying efforts. The organization organizes meetings in different localities to teach domestic workers about their rights as employees. These settings also allow the women to discuss experiences and support each other with challenges they face at the workplace.

In 2008, the Supreme Court of India mandated the inclusion of domestic workers with the “Unorganized Workers’ Social Security Act”, which ensures the formation of state welfare boards around the country. These Welfare Boards are required to provide benefits like family medical insurance, financial support for education, and pension schemes.

In 2012, the Maharashtra Domestic Workers’ Welfare Board (Mumbai would be in the purview of this board) began to register domestic workers and began to provide some of the benefits stipulated in the 2008 Act. However, by 2014 schemes such as scholarships for children were abruptly ended and problems in the Labour Department led to a glitch in registration for domestic workers with the Welfare Board. NDWM is currently lobbying for separate laws for female domestic workers that would include: weekly holidays, paid-leave, and bonuses. They are also lobbying for social security for the 50% of domestic workers who are migrants to Mumbai. In May 2016, NDWM met with 60 members of the Legislative Assembly in the Mumbai Region to submit an amendment to the Maharashtra Domestic Workers Welfare Board Act, which would require employers to comply with the Minimum Wage Act.

In the future, the NDWM aims to shift the Welfare Board Act to a Workers’ Rights-based Act, with a grievance redressal system to ensure that employers cannot exploit domestic workers. The inclusion of domestic workers and workers employed in the informal labour markets in welfare systems is imperative in order to bring a better quality of life to the 84% of Indians employed in the unorganized sector.

Photo credit: Abhijit Chendvankar‏

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