The Time to Recognize Domestic Work as Legitimate Work is Now
New Delhi - Delivering the second United Nations Public Lecture, Dr. Jayati Ghosh, Professor of Economics, Jawaharlal Nehru University called on India to ratify the ILO Domestic Workers Convention No. 189 that guarantees the fundamental rights of domestic workers to decent and secure work.
Delivering the Lecture on ‘The Invisible Workers: Rights, Justice and Dignity for Domestic Workers’, Dr. Ghosh said, “No society can survive without the massive contribution that domestic work makes to national income.” Yet it remains largely invisible and undervalued, a reflection of the low value India places on social reproduction.
Noting that domestic workers are amongst the most vulnerable of workers in India, Lise Grande, United Nations Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative said, “All workers, including domestic workers have the right to fair working conditions.”
NSSO data on employment and unemployment reveals that the number of domestic workers in urban areas increased by 68 percent in the decade between 1999-2000 and 2009-2010. Dr. Ghosh attributed the significant increase in domestic work in India to two factors. One, high rates of economic growth have not translated into an adequate increase in employment in the formal sector. Second, rising inequalities has meant on the one hand, an increase in self-employment with more and more people desperate to supplement incomes, and on the other, a rising middle class that can afford to hire domestic work. “Inequality in India permits lower wages for domestic work”, she added.
Domestic work is emerging as a crucial livelihood option for millions of women in the country. While women’s labour force participation in India is amongst the lowest in the world, the country has witnessed a 75 percent increase in women’s domestic work. This has been accompanied by a significant increase in women migrant domestic workers who are particularly vulnerable.
In 2011, an overwhelming majority of 185 member states of the ILO voted in favour of adopting the Domestic Workers Convention No. 189 which according to Tine Staermose, Director, ILO Country Office for India and Decent Work Team for South Asia, is a universal recognition on the need to protect the rights of domestic workers. “Current initiatives in India that include expanding access to health insurance, setting minimum wages for domestic work, and organizing domestic workers, are important steps towards ensuring decent working and living conditions for domestic workers.”
The ratification of the ILO Convention in Dr. Ghosh’s view would bring about a complete transformation in the lives of domestic workers and will ensure they have the same rights as those available to other workers: reasonable hours of work, weekly rest of at least 24 consecutive hours, a limit on in-kind payment, clear information on terms and conditions of employment, as well as respect for fundamental principles and rights at work including freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Implementing the Convention will require pressure from below, all workers need to work together to push for this transformation.