Our Society’s Invisible Workforce: Domestic Workers
By Tara Manchin Hangzo
There is a sudden surge of women engaged in domestic works in Manipur. With the numbers of women /girls joining the workforce and engaged in livelihood outside of home there is greater demand for domestic workers to help lessen the burden of household chores and take care of infants and aged invalid population.
In India the estimated numbers of domestic workers is 4 million while in Manipur it is estimated to be around 20,000 to 30,000. The exact numbers is not known as domestic workers are an invisible workforce, hidden within the confine of a home So far no survey has been carried out by any agency or the government to know the exact numbers.
Most workers who work within the household are referred to as ‘helpers’ or maid servant who help the family in domestic tasks and are paid as according to their work. Another very common practice is that relatives who helps tides over during crisis. (Delivery time and sickness) and these tasks are carried care by nieces or young girls who helped during school holidays or after they drop out of school. Tribal culture of helping each other in times of needs is a noble deed, an integral part of our compassionate custom and payments for services rendered are not expected to be paid in cash.
Earlier most household chores were carried out by daughters and daughters- in- laws of the house or any capable women of the household. With many young working couple living in nuclear family there are no more aunts, mothers in laws, sisters or aunties to care for infants and the elderly.
Crèche are mushrooming in every colony to care for young infants but till date Manipur has no old age medical aided home .In churachandpur day care home for the elderly have started . Nurses and volunteers are employed to take care of sick elderly members of the family if the family can afford them. But it is still inadequate so the role domestic workers as carer are still very much in demand.
When it comes to placement cell or agency for domestic workers there is one or two but most domestic workers are hired by words of mouth through referral from one domestic worker to another. There is no formal written contract and hence their services can be terminated anytime.
The new breed of Domestic workers in Manipur are localites ( they belong to all tribes as well as Meitei and Pangal ) and non local migrants workers are Bengali ,Bihari, Chacharis , Nepali . They belong to the age group of 18 to 58 years. The younger group 15 yrs to 36 yrs are mostly tribal and are “ lived in maid “ full time workers
‘while the middle aged non local belongs to the migrant group and work as a part timer. For them domestic work is their means of livelihood and earning to supplement their meager family income as husbands are in the lower income earning bracket. The non local are migrants whose husband are involved in construction works and have no job security. So their earnings however little is their security for the family.
Today we find increased in the numbers of young girls and women employed by households because housewives need their services. Some are paid handsomely but at the discretion of the employers. There are no fixed wages for domestic workers and so depending on the employer’s kind nature, wages are paid. ( Amount range Rs 2000 to Rs 7500 per month) and working hours are from 3 hours to 8 hours for part timer and 18 to 24 hours for lived in domestic workers . There is no regulation of time. You live with the family and do all the necessary or required work in the house and get paid monthly salary which goes to the upkeep of parents and siblings in the village. The money earned is not even theirs to save or keep.
Some are paid well while others are paid minimally. Domestic workers have no bargaining power. They have no voice as they belong to the very marginalized and poor families. Most of them are illiterate. Those who studied did not go beyond standard 5 to 7 due to poverty, early marriage. The burden of earning for the family depends on girls after father demise or illness. Hence we will find two or three sisters working as domestic worker to help sustain the family and sent their siblings to school. They are all female few males are employed as domestic work because household sphere is considered to be women’s domain. Women hold the baton when it comes to doing domestic work.
In Imphal, there is a practice of hiring ‘thourani Bamon cook’ whose sole duty is to cook meals for the rich household and this is the prerogative of the rich. Payment again depends of the status of the household. But they are not considered as domestic workers. They have exclusive status as special cook of the house and are given due respect.
In Manipur, the labour department is yet to fixed the minimum wage for domestic workers under the minimum wage Act 1948. States like Assam, Rajasthan, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have already fixed minimum wages for household workers. For example Rs 31 per hour for Assam state which is still considered low and the domestic workers are demanding higher wages .Karnataka pays 37.50 per hour which will be revised . The question is merely fixing minimum wage is wage is not enough but should be implemented and legally enforce.
Domestic workers are still not organized, there is no union formed and are in the informal sector. They are not regarded as significant members of the labour force and hence adequate redressal mechanism in law and policy are absent These flows from the idea that ‘Home’ is not still considered as ‘workplace’. According to law they are not considered as workers in the society. This in turns is injustice and unfair and provide a scope for exploitation to take place .
Domestic workers are the backbone of a family household and yet their services not acknowledge by the society. This is a gross injustice and must be ratified. ILO C 189 clearly states that all countries must offer decent wage for domestic workers, they should be provided protection under national labour legislation by: 1. fixing minimum wages for domestic workers and women belonging to BPL. 2. They are entitled to a one day off in a week for rest. 3. Entitle to protection from physical, verbal and sexual abuse. 4. Entilled to access social security schemes. 5. Entiled to Decent & safe working environment. 6. Entitled to respect and dignity at workplace i.e home
There is an urgent need to recognize and acknowledge the domestic workers as significant part of a labour force and include them in the labour laws . Formulate a proper policy or regulatory regimes to protect them. All domestic workers must be registered with the labour department but in Manipur none has registered so far because domestic workers are not recognized as labour in the society.
Therefore, the rights of the domestic workers must realized and made aware of .They must be empowered by giving them a voice and forming them into a union , advocate & lobby with the government to recognized them as a significant labour force. The labour legislation in Manipur should pass a specific legislation meant only for domestic workers.
Attempts in the past has been made by National Commission For Women to introduce the ‘Domestic Welfare And Social Security Act 2010’ but unfortunately the bill has not been passed. The Manipur domestic movement organization will thrive to ensure such bill is formulated and put up in Manipur assembly session in the future.
The celebration of North east domestic weeks 10th June to 16 th June by Ferrando Domestic Workers Alliance in collaboration with Manipur domestic movement organization hope to create an environment where the rights of domestic workers are upheld. They are treated with dignity and respect and paid a decent wage befitting of the hard work put by them. They should be acknowledged as “real workers” contributing to the economy and be recognize as an important work force of our society. Every year June 16 is celebrated and observed as “International domestic worker day” to assert the rights of this vast but hidden workforce.
(The writer is coordinator, Ferrando Domestic Workers Alliance, Churachandpur branch)
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