DIMAPUR, DECEMBER 14: Asserting that India’s current approach of leaving the regulation of domestic work to States is simply impractical, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) has urged the country to immediately ratify the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Domestic Workers Convention ~ also known as C189.
A recent report published by the CHRI has identified this de-federalised structure of India’s worker protections as one of the largest challenges to domestic workers’ rights in the country. It pointed out that this could lead to inequalities for domestic workers across State lines.
“For instance, of 28 States and Union Territories in India, only 13 have enacted minimum wages for domestic workers. Under the Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008, States are required to establish local boards for domestic workers to register for social benefits. However, due to lack of oversight, access to benefits often differs between States, and only some States have set up welfare boards for unorganised workers”, read the report.
Citing official statistics, the report stated that there are 4.75 million domestic workers in India, out of which 3 million are women. However, it added, the ILO and academics believe that these statistics are significantly underestimated, with informal estimates ranging from 20 to 80 million.
“Domestic workers in India are excluded from many protections in the national labour laws; they face low wages, long hours, poor working conditions, gender and caste discrimination and physical and psychological abuse. Moreover, there is a lack of awareness among domestic workers about their rights and protections, where they exist, under domestic and State law. While some States in India include domestic workers in their labour provisions and social protections, there is little political capital for nationwide support for and recognition of domestic workers”, the report found.
Govt. refusal to ratify C189
Even as domestic workers struggle with escalating personal debt and face higher levels of poverty ~ their condition worsened by the pandemic ~ the Indian Government still has not yet ratified the Domestic Workers Convention (C189).
According to the report, the Indian Government’s contention in 2015 was that the provisions of C189 do not conform to national legislation.
“The Labour Minister at the time explained India’s practice of ratifying ILO conventions only after ‘national laws and practices are brought fully into conformity with the provisions of the convention in question’. If this is the case, ratification seems unlikely without some degree of national reform. However, in the same speech, the Labour Minister stated that ‘domestic work falls under the purview of the State sphere.
“It is primarily the responsibility of State Governments to take action for protecting people including domestic workers from exploitation. Placing all responsibility on States suggests a lack of the Federal Government’s commitment to make the changes necessary for the ratification of C189″, it observed.
The CHRI called for a commitment to ratifying the C189 and to implement the Draft Policy on Domestic Workers from the Indian Government. “In a sector beset with migration and movement across State borders, leaving the regulation of domestic work to states is simply impractical. Federal action is needed ~ and this can start with the ratification and implementation of C189”, it stated.
It suggested that if ratification of C189 is not immediately pursued, the Government should offer a detailed and updated explanation as to why the Convention is not being considered in India.
“Review the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act of 2013 to improve complaint mechanisms for domestic workers, regulate recruitment processes to ensure safer rural to urban migration for domestic workers by prohibiting employee-paid recruitment fees and salary deductions, implement the Draft Policy on Domestic Workers to ensure a streamlined protection system for domestic workers, establish a separate law on child labour in domestic work in recognition of the hazardous nature of this sector, including instances of child trafficking and the worst forms of child labour, and increase funding and support to civil society organisations that work with and directly assist domestic workers”, it recommended to the Government.
Civil society advocacy
As civil society advocacy measures, the CHRI suggested using letters and parliamentary questions to demand a detailed and updated explanation from the Ministry of External Affairs and Ministry of Labour and Employment as to why C189 is not being considered in India.
“Use international and regional civil society networks and coalitions, such as the Commonwealth 8.7 Network, to raise awareness, amplify and advocate national issues at international and regional fora. Join national civil society coalitions, such as the Voluntary Action Network India (VANI), to build solidarity, strengthen multi-stakeholder partnerships and amplify local voices in advocacy and campaigning efforts”, it stated.
It further suggested encouraging unionisation and collective action among domestic workers, including referrals to the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) and/or the National Domestic Workers Movement (NDWM) as appropriate; and encouraging domestic workers to register on e-Shram to gain access to employment and social security schemes.
(Page News Service)