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Exclusive legislation guarantees labour rights: Domestic workers’ union

In fact, such legislation has been a demand for a long time, while an announcement made more than a decade ago on hour-based fixed wages has not seen the light of the day.

CHENNAI: Tamil Nadu, which was the first State to form an exclusive welfare board for domestic workers, still lacks laws to ensure their social security guarantees them rights and fixed wages.

In fact, such legislation has been a demand for a long time, while an announcement made more than a decade ago on hour-based fixed wages has not seen the light of the day.

Weekly offs, fixed wages, annual bonus are some of the main demands of domestic workers and their associations. They also insist the Union government adhere to the recommendations of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) convention in 2011 on domestic workers. The Geneva Convention emphasised the labour rights of domestic workers and insisted that governments recognise them as essential service providers.

“The Union government has not ratified the ILO domestic workers convention till date,” says R Geetha of Unorganised Workers Federation.

The Centre’s approach towards labourers’ issues fails to consider the role of the working class for the nation’s development, claim labour unions. “We demand the Union government ratify the convention and come up with an exclusive legislation for domestic workers to guarantee their labour rights,” adds Geetha.

Though Tamil Nadu was in the forefront in launching pro-labourers’ welfare schemes and forming welfare committees, several remain on paper. The DMK regime (2007), under Kalaignar M Karunanidhi, formed a welfare board for domestic workers, which was first in the country. Nonetheless, it had failed to constitute a committee to man the welfare board.

“Now, the government is relooking into the issue and looking for members for the committee,” says C Clara, State coordinator for TN Domestic Workers Union.

Citing legal provision for Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Condition of Service) Act 1996, Clara adds that the law created a provision to levy 1% of total cost of each construction project as labour cess.

“This fund is supposed to be utilised for the welfare of construction workers. Similarly, the welfare board for fishermen, drivers and several other unorganised workers welfare boards collect levy to create corpus funds for the respective workers’ welfare measures. Similarly, the government should come up with a legal provision to levy 1% from house tax as domestic workers Cess,” she points out.

In the absence of such legal provision, domestic workers continue to face discrimination of various kinds. “Our demand for hourly wages has also remained unfulfilled till date,” rues Puspha (47), a domestic worker in Chennai.

Former labour minister for State, TM Anbarasan, on February 4, 2010, had announced a wage of Rs 30 per hour following repeated pleas from the union. It is yet to materialise.

“The change of regime has derailed our efforts in obtaining legal sanctity for it. After a decade, the government recently issued a notification regarding fixed wages for skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled domestic workers,” states Clara, who hopes that the government would ensure the rights and dignity of domestic workers without further delay.

Meanwhile, labour minister CV Ganesan told DT Next: “The ministry did not receive any representation from domestic workers. If a representative of the workers submits petitions, we’ll take immediate measures to redress their grievances.”

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