#India – Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill becomes Law #Vaw #Womenrights


26 Apr 2013, 01:44 PM
Law to curb sexual harassment at work

Law to curb sexual harassment at work

 

New Delhi: President Pranab Mukherjee has given his assent to a bill under which cases of sexual harassment at workplace, including against domestic help, will have to be disposed of by in-house committees within 90 days failing which a penalty will be imposed.

Repeated non-compliance of the provisions of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Law, can lead to higher penalties and even cancellation of licence or registration to conduct business.

The bill was cleared by Parliament in February this year.

The new law brings in its ambit even domestic workers and agriculture labour, both organized and unorganized sectors.

As per the act, sexual harassment includes any one or more of unwelcome acts or behaviour like physical contact and advances, a demand or request for sexual favours or making sexually coloured remarks or showing pornography.

Non-compliance with the provisions of the act shall be punishable with a fine of up to Rs 50,000. It has also provisions for safeguard against false or malicious charges.

A Parliamentary Standing Committee, which had examined the bill, had held the firm view that preventive aspects reflected in it has to be strictly in line with the Supreme Court guidelines in the 1997 Vishaka case.

The Apex Court‘s judgement in the case not only defines sexual harassment at workplace but also lays down guidelines for its prevention and disciplinary action

 

Hong Kong domestic workers lose residency case #Vaw #migrantworkers


Top court denies domestic workers from Philippines the same status that is available to other foreigners after seven years

Hong Kong's top court has denied residency to two maids from the Philippines

Hong Kong’s top court has denied permanent residency to two maids from the Philippines. Photograph: Alamy

Hong Kong‘s top court has denied permanent residency to two domestic helpers from the Philippines in the final decision of a legal case with implications for tens of thousands of other foreign maids in the southern Chinese financial hub.

The court of final appeal issued its unanimous 5-0 ruling on Monday. The two had argued that an immigration provision barring domestic workers from permanent residency was unconstitutional.

The ruling sided with the government’s position that domestic helpers are not the same as other foreign residents.

The decision means Evangeline Banao Vallejos and Daniel Domingo are not allowed to apply to settle permanently after living for at least seven years in Hong Kong.

The case has split the city, home to nearly 300,000 maids from mainly south-east Asian countries. Some argue that barring maids from applying for residency amounts to ethnic discrimination. But other groups have raised fears that the case would result in a massive influx of maids’ family members to Hong Kong, straining the densely populated city’s social services and health and education systems. Supporters of the maids say those fears are overblown.

Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China and permanent residency is the closest thing it has to citizenship.

Foreigners who work in other professions are eligible for permanent residency after living in Hong Kong for seven years. Those who have it can vote and work without needing a visa.

Government figures cited by a lower court in this case said an estimated 117,000 foreign maids had been in Hong Kong for that length of time as of 2010.

 

Women Bill to curb sexual harassment in workplaces passed in Rajya Sabha #Vaw #Womenrights


 #India - Lets  ALL Resolve for  FREEDOM  from VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN this New Year #mustshare

 

PTI

Cases of sexual harassment of women at workplace, including against domestic help, will have to be disposed of by inhouse committees within a period of 90 days failing which penalty of Rs 50,000 would be imposed.

Repeated non-compliance of the provisions of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Bill, can even lead to higher penalties and cancellation of licence or registration to conduct business.

The Bill, which has already been passed by Lok Sabha, was unanimously passed by Rajya Sabha on Tuesday, with Women and Child Development Minister Krishna Tirath promising to follow up the legislation with strict rules for its implementation.

The legislation brings in its ambit even domestic workers and agriculture labourers, both organised and unorganised sectors.

As per the Act, sexual harassment includes any one or more of unwelcome acts or behaviour such as physical contact and advances, a demand or request for sexual favours or making sexually coloured remarks or showing pornography.

The acts or behaviour whether directly, or by implication, include any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature.

Non-compliance with the provisions of the Act shall be punishable with a fine of up to Rs. 50,000.

It has also provisions for safeguard against false or malicious charges.

The Bill makes it mandatory that all offices, hospitals, institutions and other workplaces should have an internal redressal mechanism for complaints related to sexual harassment.

The Act defines domestic worker as a woman employed to do household work in any household for remuneration whether in cash or kind, either directly or through any agency on temporary, permanent, part time or full time basis, but does not include any member of the family of the employer.

A Parliamentary Standing Committee, which had examined the Bill, had held the firm view that preventive aspects reflected in it has to be strictly in line with the Supreme Court guidelines in the 1997 Vishaka case.

The apex court’s judgement in the case not only defines sexual harassment at workplace but also lays down guidelines for its prevention and disciplinary action.

 

Press Release- Invisible World of Domestic Workers Exposed at the Public Hearing #Vaw


Domestic Workers Demand Their Due Share and Labour Rights

New Delhi, February 11 : The hand that feeds, cares for children, keeps the house clean and shining is often left unattended, uncared for and at times bruised and beaten. That’s the world of domestic workers working in lakhs of Delhi homes, striving to earn a dignified living and raising a family in 21st century rising India. Domestic work, an increasing necessity in this era of globalisation, expanding horizons for women, opening up opportunities but also creating a class of working slaves in mills, offices and homes. The emerging reality is contradictory like capitalism itself where a certain class of women have gained prominence, access to diversified jobs and equality in jobs and pay but on the other hand, the women in domestic work and in the unorganised and unprotected sector have to strive for basic facilities, from minimum wages, fixed hours of work, holidays, to bonus and most importantly value of their work, respect and recognition, something which workers of the world struggled to achieve in the 20th century. These issues were raised by nearly 30 women who deposed before a panel comprising of Kalyani Menon Sen, Kalpana Mehta, Subhash Lomte, Bilas Bhongade, Tarun Kanti Bose, Aneema and Neelima in a public hearing on the theme ‘Women in the Unorganised (Unprotected) Sector in the Era of Globalization’ organised by Shahri Mahila Kaamgar Union, an affiliate of National Alliance of People’s Movements at Indian Social Institute.

 

The hearing was attended by nearly 250 domestic workers from Gautampuri, Rohini, Faridabad,and other colonies of Delhi and some others from Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh.

“I have been working for 28 years and only get Rs. 1200. When I fell sick, my employers did not give me leave to go to a doctor. I am close to 50 years and find it difficult to continue doing this work. I do not get any medical benefits nor pension. What will happen to me I wonder? How will I survive?” asks a disillusioned Asha, one of the deposer’s in the gathering.

 

Anita who is now part of the Shahri Mahila Kaamgaar Union narrated how she was brought to the city by a placement agent. “I come from a poor family. In 2011, a placement agent convinced my parents to send me to Delhi for a better life. I was only 14 years and had to leave school. I did not want to do this work but had no option. Many times I wanted to leave but the agent forced me to continue working. Finally, I was rescued by the Union”

From the panelists, Subhash Lomte throwing light on how young girls are brought from villages to city with the promise of a better life and education said that “we must continue to fight for equal wages and pension”. The minimum wage should be adjusted to inflation and the pension amount should be atleast Rs. 2000. The age for women pensioners should be 50 years and for men it should be 55 years. The pension amount for women should get directly transferred to her bank account so that it is not misused by her husband. He urged the domestic workers from Delhi to all gather at Jantar Mantar on 6th March and raise the issue of a ‘minimum wage’ with the government.

We all have to sell our labour but we cannot sell our labour without your labour “said Kalpana Mehta, a panelist from Indore as she addressed the gathering. “Always remember that the work you do is extremely important without which other homes will not function” she was quoted saying while stressing the need to give value and respect to domestic work.

The gathering passed the following resolutions at the end of the hearing:

A uniform law needs to be made for the welfare of domestic workers. Untill then Minimum Wages Act and other Labour laws must be applied to this category of workers too.

A body comprising of representatives from the government and domestic workers needs to be set up to monitor their real situation.

The minimum wages, working hours and time of remuneration should be fixed for Domestic Workers. Strict measures should be taken against those who flaunt it.

Complete profiles of all urban workers, their employers and all organizations linked to them should be done. A government agency should be set up for this purpose.

Other than weekly, monthly, yearly and sick leave, provisions should be made for emergency leave also for domestic workers. Pregnant workers should be given special leave of three months. All these leaves should be paid.

Strict punishment should be given to all those employers, placement agents and police personnel who subject domestic workers to physical, sexual and other kinds of abuse.

Other than financial aid, the government should provide other kinds of human support to those domestic workers who are crisis-struck.

All kind of middlemen and contractors should be removed between domestic workers and their employers.

To ensure security of livelihood, domestic workers and their families should be given insurance by the government

Along with an annual bonus and future investment options, annual wage increase adjusted with inflation should be given to these workers.

Shahri Mahila Kaamgaar Union also resolved to continue their struggle for decent work and ensure rights of the working women and take forward the recommendations of the public hearing to the authorities concerned.

Anita Kapoor, Poonam, Madeena Begum, Mudra, Lakshmi, Asha, Seela Manswanee

on Behalf of Shahri Mahila Kaamgaar Union

Mob. 09810787686

 

 

ATTN #delhi- Public Hearing on Women in the Unorganised (Unprotected) Sector in the Era of Globalization #Vaw #Justice


All Are Welcome !

Shahari Mahila Kaamgaar Union

(affiliated to National Alliance of People’s Movements)

Invites you to

Public Hearing  

on

Women in the Unorganised (Unprotected) Sector

in the Era of Globalization

Date: 11th February, 2013, Monday

Time: 11 AM – 5 PM

Venue : Indian Social Institute (ISI), Lodhi Road, Behind Saibaba Mandir, New Delhi

Dear Friends,

 

The harsh truth is that globalisation, liberalization, privatization and increased mechanization has further deprived a big section of the already marginalised population from access to land, water, forests, dignified livelhood and sources of energy. A powerful minority, old and emergent elite, has further established their empire on the land snatched from the large number of population. Indigenous communities are losing their rights on natural resources. Farm labour is losing out on work due to the extensive use of tractors, harvester and thresher. In this manner people living in rural areas are facing the crisis of livelihood. Henceforth, they are left with no other option than to leave their homes and migrate. It is earn their dignified livelihood, even if meagre, it is only the ‘city’ that they can look to. This city could be any city- Metros such as Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Delhi or smaller cities like Patna, Indore, Nagpur.

Most of the women migrating from rural to urban, end up as domestic workers in the urban middle class families. Some of them take up work as construction labourers, hawkers – vendors etc. considered as ‘unskilled work‘. It’s not only matter of their livelihood but also their right to shelter is under stake when they migrate from their ‘home’ land to a foreign land – cities.

 

Women working in the unroganiser and unprotected sector face numerous assaults, violence, marginalisation and difficultis and often it is difficult to estaimate the numbers. Like any other work categories it is always difficult to organise them and put up a resistance.  It is evident that to fight these atrocities, women domestic workers need to be unioninsed and put up a fight to protect their interest. The ‘Shahri Mahila Kaamgaar Union’ is a step in this direction for several years for the workers in Delhi. The key demands made by the women are the following:

  • A uniform law needs to be made for the welfare of domestic workers. Untill then Minimum Wages Act and other Labour laws must be applied to this category of workers too.
  • A body comprising of representatives from the government and domestic workers needs to be set up to monitor their real situation.
  • The minimum wages, working hours and time of remuneration should be fixed for Domestic Workers. Strict measures should be taken against those who flaunt it.
  • Complete profiles of all urban workers, their employers and all organizations linked to them should be done. A government agency should be set up for this purpose.
  • Other than weekly, monthly, yearly and sick leave, provisions should be made for emergency leave also for domestic workers. Pregnant workers should be given special leave of three months. All these leaves should be paid.
  • Strict punishment should be given to all those employers, placement agents and police personnel who subject domestic workers to physical, sexual and other kinds of abuse.
  • Other than financial aid, the government should provide other kinds of human support to those domestic workers who are crisis-struck.
  • All kind of middlemen and contractors should be removed between domestic workers and their employers.
  • To ensure security of livelihood, domestic workers and their families should be given insurance by the government
  • Along with an annual bonus and future investment options, annual wage increase adjusted with inflation should be given to these workers.

 

It is in this Context that, we are organizing the Public Hearing  on “Women in the Unorganised (Unprotected) Sector in the Era of Globalization”Expected panel for this Hearing includes – Kalyani Menon Sen, Jaya Srivastava, Kalpana Mehta, Subhash Lomte etc.  We would welcome your participation in this so that you can not only get involved in their issues but also provide support and strengthen the voices that are raising these demands. And to carry this initiative forward.

 

Zindabad!

 

 

Anita Kapoor,                        Poonam,                         Madeena Begum,

 

 

Mudra,                                   Lakshmi,                         Asha

 

 

 

Contact- Anita Kapoor – 09810787686

 

 

===============================================

National Alliance of People’s Movements
National Office: Room No. 29-30, 1st floor, ‘A’ Wing, Haji Habib Bldg, Naigaon Cross Road, Dadar (E), Mumbai – 400 014;
Ph: 022-24150529

6/6, Jangpura B, Mathura Road, New Delhi 110014
Phone : 011 26241167 / 24354737 Mobile : 09818905316
Web : www.napm-india.org

Twitter : @napmindia

 

#India – Hidden spaces- Invisible workers #Vaw #Justice


KALPANA SHARMA, The Hindu , Jan 19,2013

Invisible world. Photo: K.V. Srinivasan

The HinduInvisible world. Photo: K.V. Srinivasan

TOPICS


The issue of violence perpetrated on domestic workers, largely women, remains mostly invisible and unaddressed.

The many conversations on violence against women that began on December 16 remain incomplete. We discuss the visible. We rarely mention the invisible or less visible, the violence inside closed doors, in private spaces, away from the public sphere. By this I don’t just mean the violence by family members. That is, in any case, shrouded in several impenetrable layers of silence. Apart from this, there is another form of violence, one that is largely accepted. Often the perpetrators of the violence can be women, even those who have themselves been at the receiving end of domestic violence.

This is the insidious form of violence that millions of domestic workers suffer each day in the homes where they work. It consists not just of physical or sexual attacks but of a lack of dignity, of lack of basic rights and of the absence of recognition that they deserve a fair wage for the work they do. We need to condemn and combat this hidden violence as much as we have now begun to talk about the violence on our streets.

This column has repeatedly taken up the cause of domestic workers because it is one of those under-the-radar issues that is somehow not addressed. The majority of domestic workers worldwide are women. In India, the official data puts their numbers at just seven million when it is evident that the actual number is many times more, closer to 90 million. And this figure does not take into account the children who are illegally employed for domestic work.

Worldwide, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), an estimated 53 million people are employed in people’s homes. Over 80 per cent are women. Admittedly, this too is an underestimation. A new ILO report points out that, despite international attention being paid to the issue, little is being done. In 2011, after many years of campaigning by organisations that represented domestic workers, the ILO passed the Domestic Workers Convention (No 189). Yet two years later, the Convention has still not come into force because only a handful of governments — the Philippines, Uruguay and Mauritius — have ratified it. The Philippines has gone a step further by promulgating its own law on domestic workers giving them the same rights as other workers. Not so most other countries, including India, which is among the list of countries yet to ratify this convention.

Why is such a convention or a national law specifically addressing the problems facing domestic workers needed? Precisely because of their invisibility. They work under individually negotiated contracts, have no job security and can be fired at will. There is no regulation about their working hours or minimum wage. Nor do the women get the benefits of sick leave, maternity leave or a weekly day off. Their vulnerability is exacerbated by the fact that they are not organised and, therefore, cannot resort to any kind of collective bargaining. A law would at least inform them of their rights and would make it clear to employers that, even if they continue to exploit them as they do today, they are wilfully breaking the law.

The ILO report titled “Domestic workers across the world: Global and regional statistics and the extent of legal protection” brings out several disturbing statistics. For instance, more than half the domestic workers around the world have no limitation on the normal weekly hours of work, or get a weekly off, or get paid get paid a minimum wage. An estimated 15.6 million women working as domestics do not get maternity leave or cash benefits.

The central government has drafted a policy for domestic workers, one that will ensure that they come under the ambit of existing laws that relate to the rights of workers — such as the Minimum Wages Act, the Trade Union Act, Payment of Wages Act, Workers’ Compensation Act, Maternity Benefits Act, Contract Labour Act and Equal Remuneration Act. Karnataka was the first state to fix minimum wages for domestic workers, to accept that they were entitled to a weekly off and to ban children less than 14 years of age working as domestic workers. Of course, the implementation of this policy is another story but at least a beginning has been made.

There are many layers to the issue of violence against women. But as women’s groups have been repeatedly emphasising over the past weeks, several simple interventions can be made. I would suggest that one such step could be to implement a policy for domestic workers. Even though domestic workers now come under the ambit of the law on sexual harassment at workplace, as long as they continue to work as isolated, atomised individuals without other rights granted to workers in general, they will remain vulnerable to all forms of violence and exploitation.

If we can deal with these dark spaces in our society, where there is little value for the rights of the people who do thankless work, perhaps then we will be better placed to talk about the more visible forms of abuse and assault that have dominated public discussion and debat

A victory against modern day slavery- HRW


December 1, 2012
  • Nisha Varia

Governments may never be able to count the number of women and girls who escape getting trapped into domestic servitude due to better labour standards. But by closing gaps in legal protections and enforcement, they will no longer be providing employers the tacit permission and leeway that has allowed exploitation of domestic workers to flourish.
Nisha Varia, women’s rights senior researcher

The ILO Domestic Workers Convention was unthinkable just a few years ago. It represents the culmination of years of effort by domestic workers, advocates, and officials to shine a spotlight on a long-ignored but significant sector of the workforce, says Nisha Varia

If someone had told me 45 years ago that we would be here today, I would not have believed it. We do not have to be slaves anymore. — Myrtle Witbooi, chair of the International Domestic Workers Network and former domestic worker from South Africa, Geneva, June 10, 2011

Growing activism against modern-day slavery has highlighted the abuse and exploitation suffered by millions of men, women, and children around the world. Donor funding has flowed to create shelters and services for victims while a proliferation of anti-trafficking legislation has focused on arresting and prosecuting traffickers.

Until recently the crucial role of prevention has enjoyed less visibility and support, but the growing domestic workers’ rights movement, and the development and adoption of a landmark treaty last year provides a promising example of how to move forward in the fight against forced labour.

While the break-up of an organized crime syndicate may seem a more obvious sign of progress, governments could make significant progress against modern-day slavery by ensuring robust, comprehensive legal frameworks protecting a range of human rights, including guarantees for labour protections as seemingly mundane as a minimum wage, a weekly day off, and limits to hours of work.

Overcoming initial scepticism and resistance, members of the International Labour Organization (ILO)—governments, trade unions, and employers’ associations—have done just that. On June 16, 2011, they voted overwhelmingly in favour of a new groundbreaking treaty that, for the first time, established global labour standards for the estimated 50 to 100 million domestic workersworldwide who clean, cook, and care for children, families, and the elderly in private households.

ILO Convention 189 Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers radically changes how domestic workers—the vast majority of whom are women and girls—and their work inside the home are valued, recognized, and protected. Its desperately needed and long overdue protections shake deeply entrenched gender discrimination in social and legal norms, and, in some countries, the lingering legacies of slavery.

I woke up at 5 a.m., cleaned the house and made breakfast for the children and worked all day. I went to sleep at 3 a.m. I never got a chance to rest…. The wife of the employer shouted and beat me every day…. The employer had my passport. The door was locked. I was not allowed to go out or even talk to the neighbours. I never received my salary. – Chain Channi, Cambodian domestic worker, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, April 12, 2011

In a review of 72 countries’ labour laws, the ILO found that 40 percent did not guarantee domestic workers a weekly rest day, and half did not limit hours of work. Many national child labour laws also exclude domestic workers, meaning employers can employ young children and make them labour for long hours, often at the cost of their education and health.

Over the past 12 years, Human Rights Watch’s research on domestic workers in countries as diverse as Indonesia,Saudi Arabia, the United States,Morocco,Guinea, andEl Salvador has documented pervasive abuses and labour exploitation, including excessively long working hours without rest; unpaid wages for months or years; forced confinement in the workplace; food deprivation; verbal, physical, and sexual abuse; and forced labour including debt bondage and trafficking. Domestic workers, many of whom are migrants and at least 15.5 million of whom are children under the age of 18, who suffer such abuses typically have little access to redress.

Migrant domestic workers confront additional risks posed by language barriers, precarious immigration status, excessive recruitment fees, and employers’ confiscation of passports. Human Rights Watch investigations across Asia and the Middle East have documented the failure of many governments to monitor recruitment agencies that impose heavy debt burdens or to ensure that migrant domestic workers have access to courts, information about their rights, and support services when they face abuse.

Forging Global Labour Standards

The ILO convention was unthinkable just a few years ago. It represents the culmination of years of efforts by domestic workers, advocates, and officials to shine a spotlight on a long-ignored but significant sector of the workforce. These efforts focused on the ILO, with its unique tripartite structure in which workers’ groups, employers’ groups, and governments (183 countries are members) negotiate international standards, with all three component groups having a vote.

Speaking during the negotiations in Geneva, Maria Luisa Escorel, minister counsellor from the permanent mission of Brazil, Geneva, said: “The lack of protection for domestic workers represents a significant gap in the coverage of international labour standards…. Domestic workers around the world are looking to the ILC [International Labour Conference] to adopt a convention that would help to overcome past injustices and give domestic workers a better future.”

Many governments initially expressed hesitation or direct opposition to a legally binding convention on domestic work, citing the impracticality of monitoring work in private households and their reluctance to add to a growing body of international labour standards, many of which had poor rates of ratification. However, lobbying bydomestic workers’ organizations and NGOs, an ILO survey of laws and practices around the world, and compelling opening statements at the negotiations by the workers’ group and key governments made a strong case that the pervasive exploitation and abuse in this sector could no longer be neglected.

Some of the most contentious debates during the negotiations included regulation of employment agencies, elements of written contracts for domestic workers, provisions on social security and a healthy working environment, and how to account for working hours when domestic workers are not actively working but must be available to be “on-call.” Surprisingly, provisions on monitoring and inspections of private homes garnered little controversy during the final debate.

From the outset of negotiations, key governments provided decisive support, advocating strongly for binding standards that would extend equal labour protections to domestic workers. Delegates from Australia, Brazil, South Africa, the US, Argentina, and Uruguay spoke up repeatedly to introduce and defend strong provisions and to point to effective country-level examples of legislation and implementation.

As negotiations progressed, support for the convention grew. Some states with initially hostile attitudes changed their positions as they heard evidence of the abuses against domestic workers and concrete examples of how legislation in a diverse array of countries could improve domestic workers’rights. Members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Saudi Arabia), along with Bangladesh, Indonesia, and India, reversed early opposition to a legally binding convention and expressed support in the final vote.

In the end, on June 16, 2011, the newly negotiated standards won overwhelming support, with 396 delegates (representing governments, workers, and employers’ associations) voting for the convention, 16 voting against, and 63 abstaining. Swaziland was the only government to vote against the convention.

The ILO Domestic Workers convention guarantees domestic workers labour protections equivalent to those of other workers, including for working hours, minimum wage coverage, overtime compensation, daily and weekly rest periods, social security, and maternity leave. The new standards oblige governments to address the minimum age for children in domestic work and their right to attend school, protect domestic workers from violence and abuse, regulate recruitment agencies and fees, and set out measures for effective monitoring and enforcement.

Translating Standards into Change on the Ground

While we celebrate this historic moment, we also know that there are many challenges to face in our struggle to ensure that these rights, now enshrined in Convention form, are upheld, protected, and defended. – Migrant Forum in Asia, statement, Manila, June 16, 2011

Adopting a new convention is only the first step in a long, difficult campaign for widespread ratification and implementation. Encouragingly, although the process is slow, many countries are reviewing and revising their national legislation to bring it into conformity with the convention. Dozens of countries worldwide have submitted the convention to the appropriate national authorities for reviewUruguay, the Philippines, and Mauritius have been the first to ratify the convention, which will become legally binding in September 2013, and several Latin American countries will likely complete their formal ratification processes soon.

Whether governments are close to ratifying the convention or not, they will feel pressure to respect the standards it sets forth. For example, several countries are in the process of adopting legislation on domestic work, such as Kuwait, the UAE, Lebanon, and Indonesia, and they will consult the standards as they finalize their laws. Singapore and Malaysia, two of the nine countries that abstained when the convention was adopted, will find it in their interest to introduce reforms anyway to remain an attractive destination for migrant domestic workers who can increasingly opt for better working conditions and pay elsewhere. After years of rejecting the need for reform,Singapore finally agreed to require a weekly rest day for domestic workers.

Discrimination and exploitative practices are deeply entrenched and recognition and respect for domestic workers’ rights will not improve overnight. To make the new standards count, advocates must strengthen efforts at the national level to replicate their success in Geneva. They must also raise public awareness among key constituencies such as national labour officials, employers, trade unions, and the media. They will then need to build momentum around ILO ratification and related legislative reforms.

Because the strength and diversity of the domestic workers’movement varies greatly by country and region, another priority is to provide international support to national and regional groups as needed. This may entail defending freedom of association for domestic workers, providing financial and organizational support to fledgling groups, or building alliances among domestic workers, labour, migrants, women’s rights, and children’s rights organizations.

Finally, dissemination of best practices and lessons learned, particularly on experiences with successfully enforcing domestic worker protections, will be crucial for ensuring that strong global standards turn into concrete improvements in local practices.

Governments may never be able to count the number of women and girls who escape getting trapped into domestic servitude due to better labour standards. But by closing gaps in legal protections and enforcement, they will no longer be providing employers the tacit permission and leeway that has allowed exploitation of domestic workers to flourish.

Nisha Varia will be speaking at the Trust Women Conference in London, December 4th-5th.

 

India -Paying wife for domestic work ? A salary plan that changes nothing


 

MAYA JOHN, The Hindu

Instead of asking a man to pay his wife for her domestic work, the state must create jobs for women outside the home in order to truly empower them

Recently during a press conference called by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, the Minister of State (Independent Charge), Krishna Tirath, proposed the formulation of a bill through which a certain percentage of a husband’s salary would be compulsorily transferred to his wife’s bank account to compensate her for all the domestic work she performs for the family. According to the Minister, this percentage of husbands’ salaries would not be taxed and would provide women the much needed source of income to run the household better, and more importantly, to spend on her own, personal consumption. In a later clarification, the Minister identified this payment as an “honorarium” and not a salary which is to be paid to wives for all the services they otherwise render for free.

This proposition has not gone down well, especially with women of higher income brackets who see such proposed action as unnecessary intervention in the realm of the private, i.e. the realm of familial relations. Many such women also believe that this government intervention amounts to reducing wives into “glorified maids” who need to be paid every time they walk into the kitchen, wash the baby, sweep the house, etc. Sadly, what is sidelined amid all the clamour and jokes about commercialisation of the mia-biwi relationship is the necessity of recognising the back-breaking work performed by women to sustain their families. Of course, what we also lose sight of is the sheer hollowness of such proposed legislation. For example, such legislation, if implemented, would not provide women a source of income which they earn independently of their husbands. Instead, women would continue to depend on their husband’s earnings and employment status, and thus, remain dependent on the family structure for their individual financial sustenance.Indeed, the problem with the proposed legislation is not that it is unnecessary and demeaning, but that it is informed by a poor understanding of economics surrounding household work and women’s labour in general. Clearly, the question then is whether the Indian state is even serious about uplifting the position of the woman within the home and in recognising her contribution to the national economy.

Historical issue

Assigning an economic value to women’s domestic labour is a long-standing debate. The international women’s movement has continuously debated the question and reached many important conclusions. It is now time for the larger society to engage with the movement’s propositions seriously. First, as a society we must learn to accept that there is sheer drudgery involved in day-to-day household work. The fact that such work is performed by a woman for her husband and other family members in the name of “care” and “nurturing” cannot be used to conceal that this is a thankless job which the majority of women feel burdened by. Just because some women do not have to enter the kitchen every day since their maid does the needful, we cannot write-off the helplessness with which the average woman walks towards her kitchen hearth, every day without fail. Here, there is no retirement age, no holiday, and definitely, no concept of overtime.

Second, we must realise that the process whereby women’s domestic labour has been rendered uneconomic activity, is a historical one. It was with the emergence of industrial society and the resulting separation between the home and the workplace that women’s housework lost value whereas men’s labouroutside the home fetched wages. Third, as a society we must accept that while many are uncomfortable with providing an economic value to women’s domestic labour, chores such as washing, cleaning, cooking, child rearing, etc., are already assigned such a value by the market when need be. After all, many middle-class homes buy such services through the hiring of maids, paying for playschool education, crèche facilities, etc. Fourth, women’s domestic labour must be accounted for in the economy precisely because it is one of the contributing forces in the reproduction of labour power expended by this country’s working masses. In fact, because a woman’s domestic labour is devalued by the economy, a man’s wage can be kept low. For example, if all families were to pay every day for services like washing, cooking, cleaning, etc., because women of the household did not perform such duties, the breadwinners of each family would need to be paid higher wages so that they can afford to buy such services off the market.

The solution

This being the reality surrounding women’s unpaid, domestic labour, where does the actual solution lie? Does it lie in redistributing limited family incomes between husband and wife, or, in redistributing the national income so as to enhance individual family incomes, and hence, the woman’s share within the improved family consumption? Importantly, while pressing for valuation of women’s domestic labour, the progressive women’s movement has always argued that if the value of unpaid housework is paid but does not add to or increase the total household income, such remuneration amounts to nothing.Hence, one of the most important conclusions reached on this question of unpaid domestic labour is that the state should pay for it, especially by providing women gainful employment, special funding, subsidised home appliances, free health care, etc. In this way, women would earn through an independent source of income and be freed of an overt dependence on the family structure for their consumption. There would also be a gradual undermining of the sexual division of labour which has resulted in women being tied to their homes and unable to do little else.

Of course, what has not won much attention so far is the fact that the proposed legislation posits wages for housework rather than employment for women as a long-term solution. Indeed, questions have been raised whether the proposed legislation is implementable, but not whether it does the needful. For example, will the government be able to put in place the required administrative machinery? How exactly is the value of women’s household work to be calculated, or simply put, how many bais will equal a wife? Will the number of family members she rears determine whether she is entitled to greater compensation? And what of widowed women who do not have a husband’s salary to draw on?

Absolves the state

However, implementation is far from the real problem with such legislation. Mechanisms can always be put in place if administrative sincerity prevails. The real problem with the Ministry’s endeavour is the rationale by which it is driven. The proposed legislation should be criticised because it absolves the Indian state of the responsibility it owes to women who contribute daily in sustaining the national economy. Indeed, if the proposed legislation is formulated and implemented, it will only result in undervaluing and underpaying women’s domestic labour.

To elucidate, if we actually sit down to calculate the cost of all the different household chores a wife does for free, the figure would easily touch amounts that in no way can be compensated by a small percentage of the husband’s wages. Furthermore, with varied family incomes, such legislation would result in women being remunerated differently for the same kind and same amount of domestic work. In the case of the average working class or lower-middle class family where the total family income is anywhere between Rs.2,000 to Rs.10,000 per month, such legislation would assign women a pittance as an economic value for their back-breaking housework. This pittance will not empower the woman as the total family income remains the same. Without a growth in the actual family income, neither will such families be able to change their consumption pattern, nor will the nature of household work change so as to enable women to do other things instead of just labouring at home.

Clearly then, the issue at stake is how to minimise housework for women so that they too can step out of the home to earn, to enhance family incomes and to have greater say in family as well as public matters. Greater employment generation for women by the state, and widespread introduction of facilities like crèches at all workplaces, subsidised home appliances, unhindered promotion post child birth/maternity leave, etc. are the need of the hour. While direct employment helps to create women who are financially independent, the provision of the latter helps women to remain in the labour market, despite starting a family. If the average woman is to be freed of the yoke of household drudgery then it is evidently the Indian state which has to pay by creating concrete conditions for her greater economic participation outside the home.

(Maya John is an activist and researcher based in Delhi University.)

 

 

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