Indian domestic workers take grievances to PM

At least 6,000 call upon national parliament to enshrine their rights in law
Indian domestic workers take grievances to PM

Domestic workers shout slogans during a demonstration near the Indian parliament on Aug. 2 to demand a law ensuring their rights. (Photo by Bijay Kumar Minj/ucanews.com)

Holding placards and shouting slogans, some 6,000 domestic workers marched near the Indian parliament on Aug. 2 demanding legal provisions to ensure their rights amid government efforts to revise country's labor laws.

The mostly women workers were demonstrating as Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government reportedly plans to scrap at least 38 labor laws and replace them with four codes, which activists say act against workers' rights. 

"The new codes are being initiated from the perspective of globalization and ease of doing business rather than workers' rights. The new codes will strengthen employers and weaken workers," said Elizabeth Khumallambam, an organizer of the New Delhi protest.

The National Platform of Domestic Workers, which organized the protest with 10 other groups, called on the government not to introduce the new central codes. 

They also want a comprehensive law to ensure workers' rights and benefits such as a minimum wage, annual leave as well as heath and retirement benefits for domestic servants.

India has about 6.4 million domestic workers, according to census records, but the real number may be as high as 90 million. But the country has no law to govern them, the group said in a statement. 

India neglects the millions in this unorganized sector despite adopting a 2011 International Labor Organization domestic worker convention, which requires each member country to fix a minimum wage and ensure security and decent living conditions, the release said.

Domestic workers are employed for cleaning, cooking, babysitting and other odd jobs and mostly come from impoverished villages seeking employment and are unable to assert their rights, said Sister Kalai Selvi, a Franciscan nun working among them in New Delhi,

Several Catholic nuns work across Indian cities forming groups and organizations to promote the rights of these workers, hundreds of whom are tribal people, including Christians, from poor states like Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.

Khumallambam, co-coordinator of a domestic workers' forum from Haryana state, said it has collected more than 100,000 signatures in support of the protesters' demands and presented them to the office of the prime minister and labor minister.

Maxima Ekka, co-coordinator of the domestic workers' forum run by Delhi Archdiocese, told ucanews.com that domestic workers are "in high demand in the city but they continue to be victims of atrocities such as rape, domestic violence, physical and sexual abuse among others."

"The absence of any law to secure the rights of domestic workers makes their fight for justice difficult. In many cases, perpetrators get off scot-free," said Ekka, a tribal woman from Chhattisgarh.

Gaurav Kumar Tomar, a legal adviser to domestic workers, said minimum wages have been fixed for domestic workers by seven states — Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Odisha and Rajasthan. "But it is only on paper," he added.

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