WINS endorses the demands of domestic workers on International Domestic Workers Day 2022

On 16th June 2022, WINS endorsed the demands of domestic workers at the
International Domestic Workers Day Programme organized by the Telangana
Domestic Workers Union. While the 11th International Domestic Workers Day
symbolizes recognition of the rights of domestic workers for over a decade, it also marks the lack of action to promote and protect the rights of domestic workers beyond mere recognition. Further, the government of India persistently fails to ratify C189 — an important ILO Convention on Decent Work for Domestic labour.

Umadevi from Amma services talks about leadership and democratic decision making at a local group meeting. Several worker leaders are undergoing training to learn these skills and more to collectivise within their communities.

The programme was premised on five specific demands :
(i) ESI to Domestic Workers
(ii) Allotment of Double bedroom housing
(iii) Implementation of a comprehensive Legislation for Domestic Workers
(iv) Ratification to the ILO Convention C-189
(v) Granting Pension and Maternity benefits to Domestic Workers

WINS endorses these demands of the Telangana Domestic Workers Union and also puts forward the concerns of sex workers. Domestic work is the first plank to sex work. The precarious working conditions of domestic work often lead women to resort to sex work. Domestic work and sex work are characterized by multi-layered systems of domination, segregation and alienation.

The concerns expressed by sex workers can be listed as follows :

The aspect of uncertainty is one of the most dehumanizing traits of domestic work. There is no security in terms of tenure or wages. Women can be left stranded at any point in their term of employment. The “informality” of their work leaves them out of the purview of legal security. They are denied basic rights including minimum wages, fixed working hours, and grievance redressal mechanisms when sexual harassment and other forms of violence take place against the workers. This extends to the institution of placement agencies that demand commission from domestic workers, yet deprives workers of any security. These agencies exploit physical, sexual labour of marginalized women and capitalize on their social insecurity.

The regulation of employees and such placement agencies has to be
aptly put in place by the state. Publicizing their rights and responsibilities and
Maternity benefits are extremely necessary as it protects the interests of their
children and ensures that oppressive work doesn’t debilitate future generations.

Children of domestic workers (who are separated from their mothers due to the nature of domestic work) should be adequately taken care of. Here one should remember that when a privileged child is cared for by the worker, it is but natural that her child also gets the same kind of protection and support from the state. The education of such children should be strictly ensured.

Universal free education should not remain in print alone. Further, the respect and dignity of domestic workers should be ensured.

Often, employers illegally confine domestic workers and beat them, when the Employer makes sexual advances, specially in the absence of their spouse/partner . This places domestic workers in precarious predatory, unsafe, and compromised positions. Sex workers have borne the brunt in households where their confidentiality was breached and details of their intimate relationships were revealed to potential employers and placement agents, and alienated them. When women are impregnated by predatory male employers, their wives and relatives punish the workers and deny them access to medical and financial aid.

Abortion, reproductive rights, and other health-related information and rights of domestic workers are a grave concern . Domestic workers are treated with distrust and suspicion. They are unfairly caricatured as threatening and capricious, again for no fault of theirs and they go through this hellish experience all alone. Domestic workers are left unpaid for months and then stranded by their employers without prior notice. Employers forge an emotional relationship with workers and weaponize it against the workers. They do not pay timely wages and at times, do not pay wages at all. The working conditions are so arbitrary and exploitative that despite working overtime they are not compensated for it. Household chores and other forms of gendered labor directly became the role of work at appointment.

Festivals and holidays that are given to others are not given to domestic workers. In fact, these days, their workload is disproportionately excess. Not only are the working hours exceeded, but also the amount of work such as washing utensils, cooking, child-rearing, and cleaning. They are required to work too much for too little pay.

Another aspect of domestic work and sex work is the role of caste. Domestic
workers are subject to violent casteism. Untouchability is pervasively followed by employers. Caste-ordained tasks such as cleaning toilets are assigned to domestic workers. This must be addressed. Domestic work is bonded labor, women cannot refuse excessive and menial work. Any little favor done by the employer for the domestic worker unilaterally and perennially binds her.

Lastly, immigration is a significant issue. Poor domestic workers are falsely
convinced to work abroad by placement agencies. They are coerced to leave their families due to economic insecurity. However, their earnings never reach their families, and a lot of times they are abandoned by employers abroad.

They are sent back penniless and in deep debt from abroad. This also leads them to resort to sex work. Formalization of work should be guaranteed and relevant documents should be compulsorily ascertained.

We hope that the voices of sex workers are heard and recognized. These demands are indispensable and further social welfare. The demands are put forward in the spirit of Indian constitutional morality and the principles of natural justice. The right of domestic workers to be treated equally, with respect and dignity is inalienable. Any action against their collective interest is a gross violation of international customary laws and the constitutional mandate of India.

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National Network of Sex Workers India

NNSW is a national network of sex worker-led organisations and allies committed to promoting the rights of sex workers in India.