New Delhi, May 4: Domestic helps, the faceless engine without which daily life will grind to a halt in India, are finally set to get the right to a weekly off and other benefits most citizens take for granted.
The Centre is coming up with a policy that stipulates the compulsory weekly off for domestic helps and a few more benefits. (See chart)
Some homes do already extend a few of these benefits but countless others do not, often treating domestic helps — encapsulated in the sweeping term maids that reflect overwhelming number of women in the ranks — as little more than slaves.
The Unorganised Workers Social Security Act does lay down some welfare measures for them but the law lacks specifics and has so far failed to make a difference to their daily lives.
The new policy, broadly based on the recommendations of the act, is expected to address such micro issues and protect the rights of millions of undocumented workers.
The policy is being fine-tuned by an 11-member task force, which was given the brief of recommending welfare and regulatory policies for domestic workers in the country.
The task force, which met early last week, has submitted the final draft of the policy.
Among the significant recommendations are the rights to leave and retirement, employment contracts, minimum wage, safe working conditions and conditions for termination of employment.
The task force has asked the government to declare a minimum wage for domestic work and also wants it to set working hours besides introducing welfare measures such as health and life insurance and skill training.
These recommendations are vital for ensuring the welfare of millions of poor people who play a crucial role in making your and my life much easier, a task force member said.
According to the member, a weekly off day is a universal right that has been included in a number of international labour conventions, including the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers.
The government, the member added, had accepted the recommendations, which would now be presented before the cabinet. If the cabinet approves the draft, it will become a national policy that will have to be followed through with state policies.
The domestic helps then can demand the benefits and employers will have to provide them. Since the policy is based on legislation already passed in Parliament, no fresh legislative process is required.
The task force has recommended that the government initiate a process to identify and register domestic workers at state, district and panchayat levels. It has also insisted on registration and strict monitoring of all placement agencies for domestic workers.
At present, the government does not have a clear idea about the number of domestic helps. But sources said their number could be anywhere between 70 million and 100 million.
Documentation is very important in ensuring the safety of women domestic workers as they are exploited the most. There have been thousands of cases of physical and sexual violence against women domestic workers but the government hasnt been able to do much as there is no mechanism to track and monitor, the task force member said.
Activists who have been campaigning for domestic workers have welcomed the recommendations.
Domestic work in India has been historically rooted in slavery and deep-rooted casteist subjugation. These recommendations, if implemented, will go a long way in liberating domestic workers from various forms of servitude, said Shailaja Kumary of Aid, an NGO working for the welfare of domestic workers.
The recommendations, she added, were important because some 70 per cent of domestic workers were said to be women and 90 per cent were from backward sections of society.