So long as there's a mindset that the home is a private space even when it's a
workplace, and domestic work is just house work and not ‘proper' work, the
apathy of the State towards the plight of Domestic Workers will continue.
The issue of exploitation of women and children domestic workers is frequent and
regularly reported. The domestic service is now accepted as an important
category of livelihood. The steep decline in agrarian produce and livelihood
security in rural areas has caused migration of rural people to urban areas. The
number of 'Women Domestic Workers' is constantly growing in the informal sector
of urban India. Domestic work has remained unorganized, unrecognized and
unrewarding for the domestic workers.
The 'Domestic Workers' are denied of minimum wages, healthy work period, safe
working conditions and other benefits in the absence of trade unions and State's
intervention. The 'Women Domestic Workers' do not have support networks and
civil society support under the existing circumstances. They experience
exploitative situations and multi-faceted abuses. The newly imposed role for
'Women Domestic Workers' in the informal economy of India throws up several
questions. The strong preference for nuclear families has resulted in a demand
for 'Domestic Workers' in the country.
The 'Women Domestic Workers' are not adequately educated and organized through
meaningful unionization. With no rights and rules to fall back on, most of the
domestic helps have become contemporary slaves. It is also a known fact that
many women and children are trafficked and exploited by the placement agencies,
which operate openly without any form of restrictions and regulations.
In last few decades there has been a tremendous growth in the demand for
domestic workers which has led to the trafficking and other forms of
exploitation of millions of Women and children of the both sexes and to meet
this growing demand there has been a spurt of thousands of placement agencies
providing domestic workers in metro-towns of many States who are exploited in
various ways as well as trafficked and remain outside the purview of any
Absence of any legal protection, has led to severe exploitation women and
children which include depriving domestic workers from their entire salary
average more than 16-18 hours of work per day, absence of proper food and
living/sleeping condition, forced and total cut off from their family members,
bounded labour, sexual exploitation by agent during transit, at the Office of
agency and at the work place in houses of employers, The list of exploitation is
endless and frequently reported upon by the media.
Traditionally, household work is considered a woman's responsibility. However,
in the last few decades, growing participation of women in Office jobs has
boosted the income level of India's middle class. With the changing scenario,
the need for 'Women Domestic Workers' has also increased. Talking of big cities,
young couples and single working professionals are dependent on maids or ‘didis'
as they are often referred to.
The legislations such the recent Notification on prohibition of child labour in
domestic work under Child Labour (Prohibitions & Regulation ) Act, 1986 cannot
be implemented in the absence of any implementation mechanism in this Act.
Concept Of Women Domestic Workers
'Women Domestic Workers' provide essential services (e. g cleaning, cooking,
child-care, gardening etc.) in other peoples' homes - which allows others to
work outside the home. Thus 'Women Domestic Workers' are an essential part of
the labour market and the economy. The majority of the world's domestic work is
performed by women, predominantly poor women. Domestic work is one of the oldest
and most important informal occupations for millions of women around the world.
Women have limited options and enter the domain of domestic work in the absence
of education, economic resources and other opportunities.
The term ‘domestic service' is practically difficult to define since the duties
of 'Domestic Workers' are not well defined. Domestic service is now accepted as
an important category of livelihood across the globe. Domestic service remains a
highly personalized and informal service delivered in the homes of employers. In
domestic service, work cannot be subjected to any comparative tests, since it
has the character almost unique in wage paid industry.
Of being carried on for use, not for profit, and the settlement of wages remains
an individual bargain between employer and employed. The implications of
domestic labour on women's emancipation as well as transformation of gender
roles, however, have been differently read by different schools of feminism.
'Domestic Worker' is a person who is engaged on a part time or full time basis
in domestic service. The 'Domestic Worker' receives remuneration periodically in
cash or kind for a fixed period from the employer.
Women Domestic Workers' In India
The steep decline in agrarian produce and livelihood security in rural areas has
caused migration of rural people to urban areas. The number of 'Women Domestic
Workers' is constantly growing in the informal sector of urban India. The family
financial crisis has also compelled the women to become 'Domestic Workers' and
protect the interest of the family.
The employers extract maximum work from the 'Women Domestic Workers' without
extending minimum hospitality. Domestic work is looked upon as unskilled because
most women have traditionally been considered capable of doing the work and the
skills they are taught by other women in the home are perceived to be innate.
When paid, therefore, the work remains undervalued and poorly regulated.
A substantial number of women in the rural areas migrate to the urban areas for
the sake of employment due to lack of education and job skills. The numbers of
'Domestic Workers' are increasing but their living conditions are precarious in
the urban slums. Generally, 'Domestic Workers' are engaged in child care and
house work in modern times. The 'Domestic Workers' are expected to be compliant,
unassertive and helpless with their employers. 'Domestic Workers' come from
vulnerable communities and backward areas. They are illiterate, poor, unskilled
and downtrodden sections of society.
'Domestic Workers' remain socially and economically marginalized sections of
society. Paid domestic work is an important source of employment for the
vulnerable sections of society. Domestic work is largely unregulated and unpaid.
'Domestic Workers' are the most neglected class of labour as they are rarely
seen and seldom heard by legal scholars. Yet, domestics are amongst a group of
workers which are the most exploited by their employers or the least protected
by the law.
The system of domestic labour shows a prevalence of low wages, long hours and
difficult working conditions. There is a need for granting legal protection to
'Domestic Workers'. The child domestic labour force is also increasing in the
country despite the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986. The
increase in the number of 'Domestic Workers' is often viewed as ‘feminization of
labour'. 'Domestic Workers' have increased in India mainly due to increased
female labour force participation, increased income and purchasing power amongst
urban populations and emergence of nuclear family units in urban areas.
The 'Domestic Workers' are denied of minimum wages, healthy work period, safe
working conditions and other benefits. The wage levels of 'Domestic Workers' are
much less than their male counterparts. 'Domestic Workers' are highly exploited
and denied just wages and humane working conditions.
They are paid well below the minimum wages for unskilled or semi-skilled
workers. The 'Women Domestic Workers' face the major problems such as – low
wages, extra work, long working hours, lack of holidays, harassment, sexual
exploitation, physical torture, ill treatment, lack of welfare facilities,
absence of social security measures, lack of rest, development of fatigue, lack
of freedom, low level of job skills, absence of bargaining power, work-life
imbalance, poor working conditions, migration, social invisibility, economic
backwardness, forced labour, discrimination, inadequate legal protection,
physical exertion, ill health, malnutrition and other problems according to
empirical evidence in India and abroad.
They find it very difficult to report sexual harassment at workplaces and are
forced to remain silent due to power dynamics and fear of discrimination or
dismissal. The employer-employee relationship is a complex one and is viewed as
one of domination, dependency and inequality.
The 'Women Domestic Workers' often continue accepting whatever, the employers
pay them and are under constant fear that asking for a raise may lead to
termination from work as there would be many more workers who are available to
do the same work by accepting whatever the employer pays them. The employers
also provide them stale food or leftover food which is not good for their health
and nutrition. The employers also refuse to give them paid leave even though
they work hard beyond their capacity.
'Women Domestic Workers' do not have good socio-economic condition. They face
problems both at home and at work place. They have a heavy workload with less
recognition and remuneration. They spend a large part of their time accessing
essential services such as water and toilets.
They do not have access to institutional care facilities that provide quality
care at affordable rates in their neighborhoods. 'Domestic Workers' live and
work in appalling conditions and are vulnerable to abuse. Their self-esteem
suffers considerable damage after prolonged periods of maltreatment, abuse and
humiliation. They feel inadequate, powerless and worthless. They do not have the
opportunity to raise their voice and avenue of redress before the competent
The 'Women Domestic Workers' are more likely to resort to unfavorable coping
strategies, such as leaving children alone at home, enlisting the help of an
older sibling or young relative, or taking children to work, if allowed, with
adverse consequences on children's health and education as well as worker's
productivity. The 'Women Domestic Workers' live in different types of slum
settlements and work in the informal sector.
The migrant 'Women Domestic Workers are among the world's most vulnerable and
discriminated workers. Domestic Workers' are also discharging socially
reproductive labour, which otherwise is meant to be done by the women of the
family as a given responsibility. The rights of domestic helps are also deeply
impinged by the general characterization of the private sphere as one of the
rationales rather than autonomy, and sacrifice, obligation and emotion. A
majority of workers with a history of domestic work do not consider domestic
work as disgraceful or undignified.
Poor Bargaining Power
The 'Domestic Workers' seldom have an organized mechanism for collective
bargaining since they work in the informal sector. There are very few advocates
of the rights of 'Domestic Workers'. They have limited employment opportunities.
The family history of the 'Women Domestic Workers' also matters from their
employability point of view. The wages are not based on ‘need-based formula'.
They do not have organized social network and find several hardships in
challenging the authority of the employer. They do not have the right to free
The 'Women Domestic Workers' are not entitled to any old-age pensions, gratuity
or bonus. They have no medical insurance and all expenses of illness,
hospitalization of self and family are borne by the worker. The caste and social
stratification have increased the probability of individuals to enter domestic
work. Organizing 'Domestic Workers' is fundamental to finding solutions to the
various problems faced by 'Domestic Workers'.
Paid domestic work continues to be excluded from the central list of scheduled
employments under the Minimum Wages Act of 1948. It is not covered under either
the Payment of Wages Act (1936) or the Workmen's Compensation Act (1923) or the
Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act (1970) or the Maternity Benefit
Act (1961). The other two Central Government interventions in recent times,
bringing domestic workers under the Unorganised Workers Social Security Act,
2008; Domestic Workers Welfare & Social Security Act 2010 and the Sexual
Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act,
2013 look good on paper but inspire little hope of making a difference in the
real world in the absence of mechanisms for inspection and enforcement—and not
surprisingly, they haven't.
'Domestic Workers' are explicitly included in the Unorganized Workers (Social
Security) Act, 2008 and Domestic Workers Welfare & Social Security Act 2010. The
record of implementation and enforcement of legal and welfare provisions for
'domestic workers' has been patchy and leaves much to desire. There is
concomitant need for providing minimum legal protection and social security for
workers generating important household and care services. Domestic Work is a
predominately female-dominated sector that is poorly regulated and often
unprotected by labour law.
Their isolation and vulnerability as workers is made more complex by their
invisibility in private homes and their dependence on the goodwill of their
employers. There is a need to create public awareness, especially of the
household employers' obligations and to that end, a Code of Practice should be
drafted which should serve as a practical tool to protect the rights of the
'domestic workers' at the workplace.
'Domestic Workers' are largely absent from the State Policy which is tied to the
social and economic devaluation of care and its gendered, class and caste
characteristics. The incorporation of women into paid labour at its lowest rung
does not necessarily emancipate women from traditional gendered roles. 'Domestic
Workers' are victims of torture, violence and exploitation in the homes of their
employers. They are the invisible workers with poor levels of union organization
and with weak bargaining power. The employment and living conditions of 'Women
Domestic Workers' are dismal by nature. They are subjected to multi-faceted
inconveniences even though they perform multiple activities.
The Trade Unions, Worker Organizations and NGOs find a lot of difficulty in
reaching each and every 'Domestic Worker'. The implementation of the law is a
challenge because of the informal and decentralized nature of the domestic
labour market. The domestic service has become a major informal sector activity
in the urban areas. The modern system of domestic growth is an outgrowth of the
system of slavery, though its nature, functions and relations have undergone
considerable changes over time.
The 'Women Domestic Workers' should be enabled to work with dignity, to engage
in a meaningful work opportunity, to get remunerated with decent wages for the
work performed, to have a voice and recognition of that voice, being able to
balance work and family life, get opportunities and avenues for self development
and training leading to wage enhancement and career progression need to be
promoted through appropriate policies, legislations and programs.
They need to have social protection and social security, get fairness in
treatment with no discrimination on the basis of caste, religion, colour,
domicile or sex at work and society at large. The effective implementation of
the various Acts for the welfare and progress of 'domestic workers' primarily
depends on the various State Governments and the involvement of civil society.
The Supreme Court has noted that 'Domestic Workers' should be remunerated
regardless of the type of establishment, potential to pay and accessibility of
'domestic workers' at reduced wages. The availability of employment is not based
in the level of pays and that reducing pays does not necessarily result in
increased employment rate. The 'Women Domestic Workers' are not considered as
professionals by anyone in the absence of systematic skill development and
capacity development opportunities in India.
The 'Women Domestic Workers' are subjected to series of injustices, deprivations
and indignities in modern society due to the absence of meaningful legal
safeguards, welfare measures and other provisions for the empowerment of women.
They are also socially weak, economically vulnerable and politically
disadvantaged section of Indian society. They deserve proper care, protection
and measures for empowerment in modern society on the basis of humanitarian
The 'Women Domestic Workers' do not have support networks and civil society
support under the existing circumstances. They experience exploitative
situations and multi-faceted abuses. The national and international legal
instruments are largely ineffective under the existing circumstances.
'Domestic Workers' constitute a large population of workforce, have been absent
from the legal landscape of labour laws of the country. The nature of
employment, employer-employee relationship and indeterminate work environment
are amongst several factors to deny the statutory benefits to 'Domestic
The absence of statutory safeguards makes the workers vulnerable and reasons to
exploit them from the hand market forces. 'Domestic Workers' are not considered
significant enough components of the labour force and hence, adequate redressal
mechanisms in law or policy are absent. This flows from the idea that the home
is not and cannot be a work place.
The labour market refuses to acknowledge the 'Domestic Workers' as 'worker'
under employment related laws. The Government has framed "The Unorganised Sector
Workers' Act, 2008 (Act 33 of 2008) with an aim to ameliorate the livelihood
conditions of 'Domestic Workers'.
The Unorganised Sector Workers' Act, 2008 treats the 'Domestic Workers' at par
with marginalized and poor sections of the society and aims to improve the
conditions of the workers but it falls short of conferring claimable interest
upon 'Domestic Workers'. The absence of a legal right on 'Domestic Workers'
absolves the State from committing to quality of life to them. The (Act 33 of
2008) has created choice-based implementation mechanism, whereas, the
right-based would obligate the State to commit to legal rights independent of
conditionality such s resources, political will or bargaining capacity of the
It elaborates the applicability of existing laws and policies on labour laws in
relation to domestic workers. Domestic Workers (Registration, Social Security
and Welfare) Act, 2008 was introduced to regulate payment and working conditions
and check exploitation and trafficking of women and other young household
There is general dissatisfaction bordering on serious discontent among the vast
masses of unorganised labour about the contents of the recently enacted. In all,
the Act suffers from a serious lack of legislative policy and intent. Anything
that can be done by way of change will, it appears, be an improvement!. There is
need to make paradigm shift in legal approach from welfare-based to right-based
in order to ensure adequate protection to a large constituents of the workforce
who are making significant contribution in economic growth of the country.
Written By: Dinesh Singh Chauhan, Advocate - High Court of Judicature,
Email: [email protected], [email protected]