Efforts of the Maharashtra State Domestic Workers Coordination Committee towards justice for workers
Domestic workers face exploitation and abuse in many forms! YUVA supports efforts to take forward the struggle for the realisation of their rights and access to welfare.
We have to work even when we are facing the most pressing situation in our personal lives. My son was suffering from dengue, but I still had to leave him alone at home and go to work because I needed the money to cover his medical expenses. Eventually, his condition worsened and in a week’s time he passed away. Who is responsible for his death now? I have to stay with the guilt for a lifetime!
This is Sunanda’s (name changed) story and such helplessness is echoed by lakhs of other domestic workers across Maharashtra (unfortunately there isn’t even any reliable data on the total number of domestic workers in the state). Issues faced by domestic workers are discussed widely at various state and national level platforms mainly due to increasing demand for their services and also, the rise in the number of women engaged in this sector. However, even as their numbers increase, domestic workers lack social security and welfare, making them highly vulnerable to exploitation.
This article explores the various challenges faced by the domestic workers in the state of Maharashtra, specifically in the backdrop of the Maharashtra Domestic Workers Welfare Board Act of 2008, a weak legislation which could not do much in terms of providing welfare to the domestic workers. It also explores how the Maharashtra State Domestic Workers Coordination Committee, a people’s coalition, is advocating for the rights of domestic workers, and its ongoing efforts in this regard.
Nature of work and resultant vulnerabilities
Domestic work is highly personalised which magnifies the vulnerabilities of women workers. Every domestic worker works in multiple households for different employers, the workplace being the private households of the employers. Thus, due to non-regulation of the workplace, exploitation and abuse by employers has been a major concern of domestic workers.
Absence of legal contract of employment, coupled with absence of social security and welfare, amplifies the uncertainty in the lives of the workers. Like Sunanda, many forcefully go to work as a day of absence from work results in an imbalanced household budget. They also face a constant scare of losing their jobs as the employer can easily replace them in case they end up taking more than the decided number of leaves.
This brings us to the question of social security. To put it simply, domestic workers earn as long as they work and so far as they are physically able to do so. That is, there are no provisions of paid leaves, number of fixed leaves in a month and pension facilities. Additionally, there is no decided minimum wage and hence, the wage received by the worker depends solely on the result of negotiations conducted with the employer.
Conditions at the workplace are not considered a topic of discussion, as domestic workers work at private households of employers. However, the provision of restroom facilities, changing rooms, crèche facilities in the premises of the employers’ homes have been a long-standing demand. This is strongly justified as many domestic workers travel long distances to reach their place of work and also work at multiple households, investing a good amount of their day away from their homes.
Social security in terms of assistance to their families has also been absent. Educational assistance for domestic workers’ children, coverage of medical expenses incurred by the family, financial assistance to help meet credit requirements have been suggested time and again by multiple organisations, unions, and collectives who work for the benefit of domestic workers but not much has been done on this front.
Placement agencies are seen as an attempt to organise the conditions of domestic work. But the fact remains that, as the middle party between the employer and the worker, their operations are unregulated giving more room for exploitation of domestic workers.
Government efforts for domestic workers’ welfare
The government should step forward to deliver welfare to the citizens and domestic workers are no different. Right from regulations for their protection, the state body should frame policies and laws to safeguard domestic workers’ interests and fulfill their welfare requirements. Thus, in Maharashtra, the Maharashtra Domestic Workers Welfare Board Act of 2008 came into place to aid in the registrations of all domestic workers in the state while also delivering welfare schemes to them. A welfare board also needed to be constituted to take their interests forward along with an advisory committee set up under the board to advise on the various operations to be conducted. The welfare board needed to ensure proper representation of all stakeholders — the employers, domestic workers and the state — and focus on furthering welfare to the domestic workers.
As per the Act, the welfare board needed to be dissolved every three years, paving way for the constitution of a new welfare board. While the Act may have been passed in 2008, the first welfare board was formed only in 2011. After its dissolution in 2014, a single-member board was constituted in 2015 in its place.
When the single-member board was set up, the date and year of its dissolution was not decided and hence even today, in 2019, there is still the same single-member board in operation. What is surprising is that the Maharashtra Domestic Workers Welfare Board Act allows for such a single-member board under certain circumstances as found fit by the state. Also, the existing one-member board directly goes against the purpose of setting up the welfare board, that is, to ensure proper representation of all stakeholders.
Also, the Act puts the onus of decision-making on the state, which leads to a lot of unnecessary interference in matters concerning domestic workers. However, it is important to note that the one-member board is currently non-functional, that is, no registrations are being done nor are any welfare schemes being delivered to domestic workers.
Ongoing efforts of the Maharashtra State Domestic Workers Coordination Committee
To raise voices against the weak legislation and the non-functional status of the welfare board, many like-minded organisations, unions, collectives and domestic workers themselves decided to come together to form the Maharashtra State Domestic Workers Coordination Committee. With a group consisting of more than 25 member organisations belonging to 16+ districts of Maharashtra, the Committee aims to collate issues and perceptions of domestic workers and collectives working with them, to present their demands at one common platform. With such data, the Committee aims to consult the state in matters concerning domestic workers.
For the past few months, the Committee has conducted various meetings, trainings and workshops and in the most recent meeting held in Chinchwad, Pune, a memorandum was drafted and agreed upon by all which enlisted demands that roughly fell into three categories — demands regarding strong implementation of provisions mentioned in the existing Act, demands regarding amendments to be made in the existing Act and demands regarding delivery of welfare schemes that are relevant as per the needs of the target population.
Domestic workers are a vulnerable and marginalised section of the population and bringing them under the ambit of committees like the Maharashtra State Domestic Workers Coordination Committee is an attempt to increase their bargaining power, support in making their voices heard and to ensure that their interests are truly considered while taking decisions that concern them. The Committee also aims to develop their voice and agency in demanding their rights for justice and to develop ownership of their struggles towards committed action.
Domestic workers and local community-based organisations (CBOs) form an integral part of the committee and YUVA has been working with them and other like-minded organisations to spearhead the process. Through regular meetings and trainings being held, the focus has been to support the movement with timely and necessary knowledge and information. The future course of action of the Committee is to approach political leaders in various districts and submit the memorandum, thereby encouraging them to raise the demands in the upcoming winter session of Maharashtra State Assembly.
Through the Maharashtra State Domestic Workers Coordination Committee, we hope to amplify the voices of the domestic workers to facilitate their struggle for recognition, dignity and welfare in Maharashtra.
Vindhya Jyoti, Project Associate, YUVA