The first-ever national policy for domestic workers is all set to go to the Cabinet for its approval,entitling them to minimum wages,defined work hours,paid annual and sick leave and maternity benefits.
The thrust of the policy is to bring domestic workers under the purview of existing labour laws,which would help them avail all the rights and protection available to other workers. According to official estimates,India has around 7 million domestic workers. Unofficial reports peg the number at 90 million.
In the works for over two years,the draft of the national policy was prepared on the basis of the report of a task force appointed by the Ministry of Labour in 2009. Now,a cabinet note on it is ready.
Once the policy is approved,domestic workers will be covered by eight existing laws among them the Minimum Wages Act,Trade Union Act,Payment of Wages Act,Workmens Compensation Act,Maternity Benefit Act,Contract Labour and Equal Remuneration Act.
The policy defines a domestic worker as a person who is employed for remuneration whether in cash or kind,in any household through any agency or directly,either on a temporary or permanent,part-time or full-time basis… but does not include any member of the family of an employer.
The domestic worker can be part-time worker who works in more than one household. They will have to register as workers with state labour departments.
Sources said establishment of a mechanism for regulation of placement agencies was also the anvil.
Suitable amendments may be made in all the relevant legislations… to explicity include domestic workers, the Cabinet note states. The proposal makes it clear that the policy envisages changes in other labour acts too if need be.
While the task force for domestic workers was set up in December 2009,the efforts gained urgency after the Sonia Gandhi-headed National Advisory Council (NAC) came up with specific recommendations in April last year. Almost all of the NACs suggestions have been accepted.
Implementation of the policy would be the responsibility of the Labour Ministry. The implementation committee will comprise representatives of four central ministries,workers and employers organisations,representative organisations of domestic workers and other stakeholders. The committee will seek reports from similar bodies in the states and suggest ways to plug lacunae if any.
Importantly,timelines have been fixed. The Labour Ministry will have to establish the implementation committee within three months of the adoption of the policy and produce an implementation plan within three months of its establishment.
Helping the help: Once the policy comes into effect…
* Governments will have to fix a minimum wage for domestic workers. This varies between states,with the current national floor-level figure being Rs 115 per day around Rs 3,400 a month.
* Women workers will get 12 weeks of maternity leave six weeks up to delivery,and the six weeks that follow and equal remuneration as men for similar work.
* They can form own trade unions or join any.
* Domestic workers will get annual paid,sick leave. In Delhi,a worker gets privilege leave of not less than 15 days annually and sick or casual leave of not less than 12 days.
* They will get compensation for overtime,social security coverage,protection against abuse and violence,and will be entitled to a safe and healthy place to stay in and sufficient food.