Domestic workers urge Karnataka govt to address sexual abuse, job security concerns

The union cited the case of Prajwal Revanna as a prime example of the abuse domestic workers have to face.
Domestic workers urge Karnataka govt to address sexual abuse, job security concerns
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Members and leaders of the Domestic Workers Rights Union (DWRU) have urged the Karnataka government to recognise them formally as workers and issue smart cards. The union decided to meet Commissioner of Labour Dr HN Gopalakrishna in Bengaluru on June 19 as Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) authorities have banned citizens from protesting in the city except for Freedom Park. The meeting took place outside the Karmika Bhavan building as the union was denied entry owing to the large number of attendees. 

The union brought their grievances to the notice of the Labour Commissioner, and presented a memorandum containing a list of their demands and the changes they wanted to bring about in the lives of domestic workers. The memorandum detailed the struggles faced by domestic workers, ranging from sexual abuse to the lack of job security in the field. Around 90 domestic workers attended the protest, and each attendee signed and presented a letter detailing their requests to the commissioner. 

Their main demand was for a smart card that would give them formal recognition as workers. Domestic workers are vulnerable to exploitation and are frequently taken advantage of due to them being workers of the informal sector, and the act of bringing them to the formal sector would mean that they are protected by the law, and have assured pay along with all the other rights they are denied. The union, led by Geeta Menon, emphatically closed off the meeting with rallying cries.

Radha, president of DWRU, stated that while the lack of change in circumstances after years of efforts is disheartening, she still believes that the government will take action with regard to their issues. She said that their fight will not stop until their demands are fulfilled by the government. 

The union cited the case of Prajwal Revanna as a prime example of the abuse domestic workers have to face. Being workers of the informal sector, they do not enjoy the constitutional rights afforded to workers of the formal sector, meaning that they are often harassed by employers who have the influence to escape accountability. The changes the union is lobbying for seeks to put an end to this. They include a potential ratification of the C189 convention to enable the enactment of the national legislation, the establishment of a taskforce dedicated to helping them address instances of inhumane treatment, granting the workers access to constitutional rights like the right to safety and health. The C189 convention, established by the International Labour Organisation in 2011, grants domestic workers the right to enjoy decent working conditions, with set days for rest on a weekly basis, the right to minimum wage and the freedom to choose where they work and reside in. It would also result in the enforcement of a minimum age consistent with the minimum age at other fields of employment.

Geeta Menon, who has been at the forefront of the DWRU since its inception, talked on the dangerous nature of the field, saying “It is also their vulnerability that should be looked at. Basically, the vulnerability that says that you are under the control of an individual employer - he can do what he wants with you - yet, you don’t have anywhere to go”, underlining the need for a new legislative framework designed to protect domestic workers from these issues. She went on to say that she hopes to see the matter addressed in the upcoming assembly session. 

The demands listed by the union in the memorandum are - 

  • Ratification of the C189 convention to facilitate the enactment of national legislation.

  • Establishment of a Domestic Workers Taskforce with a dedicated helpline to address instances of inhumane treatment by employers and RWAs.

  • Granting constitutional rights to safety, health and social protection of domestic workers through the establishment of a grievance redressal mechanism and an immediate setup of a Domestic Workers Welfare board comprising domestic workers and their unions.

  • A comprehensive benefits scheme for domestic workers through tripartite boards, with a sectoral levy or cess of 1% collected, in addition to 1% of GST and 3% of the annual Central and State Budgets, based on the Lok Sabha Standing Committee recommendation from 2008.

  • Constitution of tripartite boards for domestic workers to regulate employment, wages, working conditions including safety and occupational health, and social security, considering the changing employment and employer-employee relationships.

  • Immediate stringent action to book agencies, employers involved in trafficking of domestic workers and their exploitation by them. The placement agency control act to be enacted, with the assistance of unions and workers. The guidelines on trafficking, by the High Court of Karnataka in 2015 need to be implemented.

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