Domestic workers protest lack of social security, ineffective government scheme – Community News
Social Security

Domestic workers protest lack of social security, ineffective government scheme

Household workers rights union banner
An archival image of domestic workers protesting in Bengaluru.

Domestic workers can be found in all urban and semi-urban households in India and yet are invisible. Many domestic/care workers toil long days and can be seen rushing to their workplace as early as 5am, be it rain, sunshine or the cold winter! At their workplace – at the employer’s home – they have to deal with caste discrimination, sexual violence, they do not have social security, leave, protection or rights like other employees. With the gender perspective of domestic work, it is considered natural that domestic workers – the majority of them women – should be slaves, and their work, like all domestic work, is being devalued.

Thousands of girls across the country also fall prey to human trafficking through employment agencies. They end up in elite urban households where they work long hours with no pay, no rest or leisure, face sexual harassment, severe isolation and ill health.

Read more: Post-pandemic labor market: fewer women in work

The lack of a legislative framework, or social security mechanism, makes domestic workers vulnerable to exploitation. Despite their contribution to GDP, they have been left out of the legal framework and are very often treated as criminals.

In 2008, the Social Security and Welfare for Unorganized Workers Act was passed and in 2011, the UWSS Board was established in Karnataka. To date, however, the functioning of the administration and the implementation of social security has failed. This has left many female workers, especially older women, without a pension, social protection or health/medical facilities. Other states such as Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Maharashtra have already done exemplary work on this.

However, after continued struggles by domestic workers’ unions for registration and recognition, in 2016 the Council initiated a scheme called Ambedkar Karmika Sahaya Hastha for 11 categories of unorganized workers in the state. Domestic workers were called to apply to register and receive a Smart Card, but without any benefits! But even after the populist announcement, a negligible number of domestic workers have been given the Smart Card, and the state government has shown apathy towards this scheme.

Read more: Impact of social segregation on employment

Enough is enough, we demand answers:

  • Is the government serious about recognizing and treating domestic workers with dignity?
  • Smart card for domestic workers: Why are there no benefits to this card? How smart can employees get if there are no benefits?
  • Why was domestic worker coverage under the scheme so poor from 2016 to 2021? Is it because domestic workers are invisible workers and are lowest in the caste hierarchy or belong to Muslim communities?
  • Why was the scheme stopped during the two years of the pandemic (2020-2021), especially when these workers went through the worst crisis of their lives (with no job, income or government welfare, along with poor health facilities)?
  • Why have migrant domestic workers been left out of the scheme? What is the cover for live-in domestic workers?
  • Why is employer data not registered with the College?
  • When the Smart Card system was revived from September 2021, why were BPL/PPH cards newly introduced as a pre-requisite? Why would a welfare scheme and a “welfare government” show discrimination and not serve all workers regardless of caste, class and gender?
home worker;  victim of domestic violence from alcoholic husband, during lockdown
Domestic workers struggled with no income due to COVID in 2020-21, but the government scheme to support them was suspended during this period. Representative image

It’s embarrassing that these troubles are blatantly happening with a plan that bears the name of Dr. Ambedkar, whom we respect as the champion of equality and a visionary for a society free of discrimination. Besides, how can we believe in a government that passed unfair, unjust labor laws during the lockdown-induced crisis?

From 14 to 18 November, domestic workers will be raising these questions in a campaign on various street corners of South Bengal. On Saturday 20th November, we will protest at the Labor Commissioner’s Officer, Karmika Bhavan, near Dairy Circle. The protest will also take place at the same time in the offices of the Labor Commissioner in Belgaum and Mangaluru.

[This article is based on a press release from the Domestic Workers’ Rights Union, and has been published with edits.]

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