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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 37, New Delhi, August 28, 2021

Domestic Workers Protest Emphasizes Need For Protective Legislation And Immediate Relief | Bharat Dogra

Friday 27 August 2021, by Bharat Dogra

The number of domestic workers has been increasing rapidly in India, but the COVID restrictions led to a sudden reduction in these work opprtunities and also increased the economic problems of domestic workers greatly.

Domestic workers in India constitute a highly vulnerable section of workers In India. An overwhelming majority of them are women and girls. A significant number of them are single mothers. A majority of them are migrants. Hence from various points of view domestic workers have high vulnerability and have higher need for protection, a need which has increased further in COVID times.

It is in this wider context that the recent protest organised by the National Platform of Domestic Workers (NPDW) in Delhi in the first week of August should be seen. This protest highlighted the need for a four-pronged urgent intervention by the government to help millions of domestic workers.

Firstly, there is need for overdue protective comprehensive legislation for welfare of domestic workers. The NPDW has helped to formulate draft of such legislation which is in keeping with the various important provisions of ILO Convention 189. This Convention is known to have taken care of incorporating essential protective provisions which should be retained, while also taking into practical aspects of local realities. Some senior activists working on this issue have been highlighting that state laws are not adequate and national-level law enacted by the union government is needed as in many places most of the domestic workers are migrant workers who move or have moved across their home state for their employment.

Secondly, apart from an effective national law, immediate relief is also needed by domestic workers. This can be in the form of a lump sum cash payment or transfer to take care of very pressing immediate needs, often resulting from the fact that most domestic workers were without work and wages for several weeks at a stretch. Free dry rations, a higher quantity and for a more extended period of time, can also be very useful.

Thirdly, registration of all domestic workers should be initiated in various parts of the country. This process should be made simple for domestic workers, keeping in view their constraints.

Last but not the least, overall work prospects should be improved in urban areas in various ways. One possible step, which has been often discussed in recent times, is to introduce an urban employment guarantee scheme, or extension of rural employment guarantee scheme to urban areas in ways that will work in cities and towns. Practical formulations of such a scheme have been introduced and circulated in recent times. In the particular context of domestic workers what is important is that such schemes may provide their household members additional work opportunities which will be useful particularly in lean times or during periods of loss of regular jobs.

All aspects of this four-point approach should be considered and adopted to provide badly need relief and security to domestic workers and to help them to tide over exceptionally difficult times.

(The writer is a journalist and author. His recent books include Man Over Machine and Protecting Earth For Children.)

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