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Indian domestic workers take plight to streets

NEW DELHI (UCAN): Church organisations in the Indian capital city of New Delhi helped organise women domestic workers, recognised as the most oppressed work sectors in the country, in a demand for minimum wages and job security, which they say are necessary to lead a dignified life.

“We have been suffering for so long. There should be a law for us so that the employers do not pay us according to their wish and remove us from the job whenever they want,” Sunita Yadav, a domestic worker, said.

Yadav was among the more than 200 women domestic workers from the national capital region who came into the streets on December 9.

She said that it is due to the hard work by domestic workers like herself that employers were able to carry on with their busy schedules. “In return they do not even want to give us a little respect and proper wages,” she said.

Chetnalaya, an archdiocese labour rights ministry, was one of the organisers of the protest along with Caritas India, Nirmala Niketan and the National Domestic Workers Movement, among others.

“The issue of exploitation of domestic workers is very serious in India with some made to work for 16 to 18 hours with no legal protection, no contact with their families and some even are subjected to physical, mental and sexual harassment,” Anushika Thompson, the advocacy and networking officer from the Chetnalaya domestic workers’ forum, commented.

Though nothing yet has been done by the government for domestic workers, organisations such as Chetnalaya have been able to sensitise women to stand up for their rights.

Lolanti Toppo, a domestic worker in New Delhi, said she formed a small union that meets once a month to discuss grievances.

“We do not let any employer remove any domestic worker without notice in our area. We counsel workers and also talk to the employers if need be. This has made us secure in our jobs,” Toppo explained.

The women in the street rally also demanded that the Indian government ratify the International Labour Organisation Convention on Domestic Workers.

The convention, adopted in Geneva in 2011, requires each member country to fix a minimum wage for domestic workers, as well as ensure security and decent living conditions.

In India, domestic workers are employed for cleaning, cooking, babysitting and other odd jobs in the house.

Hundreds of millions of women work in the domestic sector in India and make up one of the largest indirect contributors to the national economy.

They remain voiceless, because their work is considered unskilled and due to the absence of a law governing their employment, remain unprotected and unrecognised.

In 2010, the National Commission for Women penned a draft law, Domestic Workers Welfare and Social Security Act, but it has never been passed in parliament.


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