Face behind the mask: The domestic workers conditions today

Sr  Pramila UFS
NDWWT-Nagaland Region, ACID 

Looking deep in to the problems of the Domestic Workers, their unseen struggles and problems stand out like “face behind the mask” of today. They contribute a lot to the household and the society, but who recognises them? Hardly a few good souls. They are still unrecognised. 

It was on 16th of June 2011, exactly 10 years ago the ILO convention adopted the policy where in the workers, employers and governments came together to adopt ILO Convention vide, ILO C -189, ON “DECENT WORK FOR DOMESTIC WORKERS”. Since then, many countries around the world have implemented the policy with ‘decent work for domestic workers’. These measures represent the first steps in a long path to redress a history of exclusion; making decent work a reality for domestic workers who require the sustained attention to ensure real progress.

It is estimated that there are over four million domestic workers in India. They remain part of an informal and unregulated sector, obscured in private homes, not recognised as workers but rather as 'informal help'. 

They receive a meagre or low wages, extra and long working hours, they get no holidays, no welfare facilities or social security measures, constant harassment, sexual exploitation, physical torture, ill treatment, no entitlement for rest even at the event of developing fatigue, no freedom, frequent false accusations and suspicions. These are the problems faced and expressed by many of the domestic workers. And now after the outbreak of COVID-19 Pandemic, their lives were made all the more miserable. With the wake of pandemic resulting in prolonged lockdown, they to face the problems like Job loss, pay cuts, lack of transport and social boycott. If we look at their home conditions they faced with multiple problems like, payment of the house rent, children’s school fees, daily bread, no job, even the spouse at home without work. 

Like never before, the corona virus crisis has made their works undervalued and without any protection. As their employers take steps to practice social distancing, many domestic workers have been left without work and without any guarantee that they would get their jobs back.

 At the same time, many domestic workers play the role of front line warriors of the pandemic - caring for the sick, keeping homes clean, caring for children and helping households stay clean, all without proper protective equipments. In addition to this, they face low pay, rarely receive benefits, and have less access to full-time work than other because they work in private homes. They are outside of public view and isolated from other workers, leaving them particularly vulnerable to exploitation. Domestic workers have been among the least protected workers worldwide. Labour laws in many countries either do not recognise domestic workers as workers entitled to labour rights or if they do, they exclude them from key protection including limits on hours of work and social protection coverage. The government needs to strengthen legal protections to ensure their lives’ security. Domestic workers had high hopes for ILO - C 189, but unfortunately it remained as a distant dream for the domestic workers here in India. The Convention requires member states to take legal, policy and other measures to protect domestic workers. It should extend basic rights to domestic workers, including workplace safety, health and social protection and protection against discrimination and forced labour. It also requires states to legislate certain laws that would ensure and provide domestic workers with employment contracts and protection to migrant workers by their employers.

Millions of women and girls around are employed as domestic workers in private houses and homes. They clean, cook, take care of the children, look after the elderly and the sick, and perform other essential tasks for their employers. Despite of such important role they play in bettering the life and families, they are among the most exploited and abused workers. The domestic workers work 14-18 hours a day, seven days in a week, for wages far below the minimum wage. This is their lot; this is their life. Who cares for them? The government? The individual employers? We need to give a thought. 

When we see, hear, read and witness the problems faced by the domestic workers and the recognition that we give; the convention ILO - C 189 ‘decent work for domestic workers ‘remain only in the paper. Can we think a wild thought keeping in mind the current situations as to whether the employers insisted the domestic workers to vaccinate themselves. 

At the backdrop of this prevailing situation and the plight of the domestic works,  I, as the coordinator of the National domestic welfare trust - Nagaland Region humbly request every one concern be it institutions or individual families; Please tell your domestic workers to vaccinate themselves, treat them with much love and respect, understand their feelings and their problems. Behind the mask your unarmed domestic workers, there is a sea of tears flowing down due to their innumerable problems and difficulties. Their silent do no mean their problem free life. Do not forget that after resolving the problems of every little daily chores of your house/institute, she has mountain of her own problems – economic, health, relationship, emotional and spiritual. Be good to them, be kind to her families, be just in paying her. As we commemorate International Domestic Workers day on June 16th, let us recognise their contribution to the individual, family, society and the Nation. Only when every employers begin to think and feel that “my domestic workers is also is a worker, her work I need to recognise”, then only we are able to bring a change from the corner of the world and make our domestic workers to work with dignity and respect by recognising her contribution and helping her to have her rights.

Domestic worker who is like face behind the mask works between the four walls to make everyone’s life comfortable. Then why delay to recognise them? Do we need another 10 years to “Recognise Domestic Workers as Workers, and Domestic Work is Work


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