Why do people work? Why do we all go through different pains to earn a living? Why do some of us still do a job that we dislike? To earn right? Whether we like what we do or not, we work to earn money. To have economic support, financial security, and assurance of a comfortable future. It is universally acknowledged that income is a basic necessity and at the end of the day, we strive for a better life for our families and our own being. But what happens when the job you do is barely enough to make ends meet? And the amount of work that you are being put through is way more? Moreover, there is no law to protect you?
This is how our functioning world treats domestic workers. With changing social lives, busy schedules, and people constantly attempting to achieve a perfect balance between their personal and professional duties, seeking help in domestic chores has become a part of everyone’s life. The majority of households, today, are in some way or other dependent on domestic help to get through their daily routine. And with more and more women entering the workforce, the need for domestic support has also emerged.
Although the industry of domestic workers seems to be emerging, the population involved here is highly undervalued and underpaid. Well, our economic structure has never given domestic chores their due importance, nor the people carrying out these chores their due credit. Domestic chores add quality to life and value to how we build our lifestyle, yet we fail to identify their significance.
“Official statistics place the number of domestic workers employed in India as 4.75 million, (of which 3 million are women) but this is considered a severe underestimation and the true number to be more between 20 million to 80 million workers.” Regardless of such a large populace being part of this sector, it is still considered to be a part of the unorganized part of the economy. Women who are from low-income sections and are illiterate are major stakeholders in this area.
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Discrimination Of Domestic Workers
As we unravel the layers of functioning of this section, the ugly truth of discrimination and poor working conditions becomes visible. Domestic workers are highly underpaid and the amount of work they do is extremely undervalued. There is a number of contributing factors to this. 1) Large Labour Supply 2) undervaluation of domestic work and its contribution to society 3) the low bargaining power of domestic workers 4) the lack of representation in the sector and frequent exclusion from labour protection.
While every profession is protected by ‘The Minimum Wage Act’, there is no such law to help domestic workers to fight their exploitation at the hands of the employer. Some Indian states have tried to incorporate the act into their law system but the prescribed wages for domestic workers are kept to be the lowest when compared with other professions which fail to achieve the purpose.
The lack of representation of this section of society has led to towering economic inequalities in society. Since most of the workers belong to the category of unskilled labour, there is very little choice for them when it comes to entering the workforce. They are already struggling with the poor living situations, therefore end up accepting whatever offer they can get.
But is remuneration the solution to everything? The answer is a No.
Low income is a major issue in the industry but the hardships that these domestic workers face go way beyond it. The workers are often subjected to different forms of discrimination at the hands of their employers. They are denied basic human ethics while working. “Borders between countries are marked by fences, but borders between classes are marked out by where you may sit, where you may go to the bathroom, and where and with whom you may eat."
The workers are denied basic human ethics while working. No access to toilets, unlimited working hours, denial to take leaves, no access to raises or bonuses, and overall biased behaviour are some serious issues that we need to ponder upon. Even though the country has grown through decades of transformation, people belonging to the lower strata of the society fall prey to prejudices on regular basis. How do we rise from it?
We need conversations and a firm resolve. Where is the representation for these workers? An occasional news headline or identifying the numbers is not going to make a difference unless we as a whole do not take action towards it. Domestic workers are home builders and the least they deserve is basic human decency and the right to a good life. We need to comprehend the fact that our economy will thrive if people doing the work are able to get paid off for it.
From our morning tea to our dinner, from dirty laundry to clean clothes, from a mess of a home to an organized living space, each and every worker have sacrificed their time and effort to make our lives comfortable. So, it is high time we start becoming grateful for it.
The views expressed are the author's own