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Paid leave and pension for Mumbai maids

Mumbai, Jan. 6: The mobile around the neck nearly overshadows the mangalsutra. And though the ladies’ purse has not been replaced by the laptop yet, housemaids in Mumbai are ready to join the corporate order.

A new law passed by the Maharashtra Assembly guarantees them perks similar to those of the salaried class — paid leave, weekly day off, maternity leave, yearly increment, annual bonus and Diwali gifts, not to mention pension, health insurance and provident fund.

Known for their negotiating skills and professionalism that can put CEOs to shame, Mumbai’s bais say they had hoped for a better deal from the Domestic Worker’s Bill, passed last week.

“We had also expected leave travel allowance. Anyway, we are happy as of now. But all this will be of no use if the government does not ensure proper enforcement,” said Ananda Pawar, general secretary, Mumbai Domestic Workers’ Welfare Association.

State labour minister Nawab Malik, though, has termed this a “welfare measure”, adding that enforcement (punishment for violation) would not be considered at this stage.

The move is being seen as a politically prudent step that keeps both domestic workers and their employers happy. Besides, the government is yet to work out which components the employer will pay (probably paid leave, bonus, PF component and insurance premium) and how much the government itself will (for instance, pension).

To start with, the state will set up a Domestic Workers’ Welfare Board to sort all this out and ensure job security. The board will have members from among the domestic hands, employers and the government.

The domestic workers must register themselves with the board to enjoy the rights guaranteed by the new law. The board will fix minimum hourly wages and will have a grievance cell.

Altogether 32 types of work come under the definition of domestic work, including sweeping, cleaning utensils, washing clothes and cooking.

“In my view, it just makes a simple thing complicated. Imagine having to buy a form and filling out details of every possible chore whenever I need to take on a new bai,” said Malvika Thalli, a Mumbai resident. “I mean, how can I specify how many dishes and bowls will be in my sink to clean in a day?”

Although the government is yet to decide whether to get specific about the amount of work, domestic helps — especially migrants from Bengal, Jharkhand and other states — are hopeful the bill will give them some protection.

“As a 24-hour live-in help, there is no limit to my work hours or even the amount of work I do. If I refuse, I may be thrown out and end up on the road. I am not a local and have nowhere to go if I lose a job suddenly, which happens all the time. I would certainly like to register,” said Indira Murmu, who is from Ranchi.

But many migrant workers like Malati Kundu, from Midnapore, are already registered with private maid agencies that find work for domestic workers in Mumbai at a premium price.

“Those who can negotiate better and harder, or find the board’s rules limiting, may not register. Our agency finds us work in households that are also registered with them. We are paid a handsome salary and in case of any grievance, both parties can approach the agency. I don’t think we will need any government board. But it will be good if they start this back home in Bengal,” Malati said.

Unlike the agencies, however, the new law with its pension and PF schemes promises to take care of the workers in their old age.

Mumbai’s maids each earn Rs 5,000-6,000 a month on an average, with each household paying them around Rs 900.

Of the more than 3 lakh domestic workers in Mumbai, only 50,000 are unionised. Maharashtra has 10 lakh domestic workers.

Maharashtra is the seventh state to pass such a law. All the four southern states have similar laws, and so do Rajasthan and Bihar.

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