Consultation on social security for domestic workers

National Domestic Workers Movement organized a consultation on the issue of minimum standards of social security that the government is required to provide the workers of the country. The aim of the consultation was to formulate demands for social security at the national level. The consultation was organized in Chennai on October 10th.

One of the discussion of the consultation was the use of International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions to demand better laws on social security in India. ILO passed the Social Security (Minimum Standards) Convention (C102) and the Convention on domestic workers (C189) in 1955 and 2011 respectively.  India has not ratified either of these conventions. Social Protection Floors Recommendation (R202), issued by ILO in 2002 seeks to re-affirm social security of workers as a right, and provides guidelines to member States to establish and implement some minimum standards of social security. Henri Tiphagne of People’s Watch talked about using various provisions of the UN to fight issues of domestic workers. Firstly, pressure should be built up on the Indian government to ratify the ILO conventions 102 and 189. Since social security is a human rights issue, movements and concerned civil society members should use mechanisms such as the Universal Periodic Review to highlight and fight these issues. Another strategy that can be used is that of the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs) for the year 2030. At least 11 of these 30 goals have connections to the issue of social security. This connection should be used to push the issue to the attention of the government and place demands for solutions.

CRITICISM of the Unorganized Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008
The Central Government passed the Unorganized Workers Social Security Act in 2008. R.Geetha of Unorganized Workers Federation (UWF) said that this law was passed in the face of vehement protest from many quarters, including all the Central trade unions. A draft Bill prepared by the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganized Sector (NCEUS) in 2005 was completely ignored by the government. The result was a hollow Act.  To start with, the 2008 law does not provide a good definition of an ‘unorganized worker’. For the most part, the Act deals with the formation of a National Social Security Board, which is just an advisory body and does not have any powers of implementation. The related schemes are listed as part of a schedule and are not part of the main Act. All these schemes, like Old Age Pension, Rashtriya Swasth Beema Yojana (RSBY), Aam Aadmi Bima Yojana (AABY) were existing schemes, and were not introduced as part of the Act. One of the important problems is that this Act does not provide any enforceable right to social security for unorganized workers, as noted by the Chief Justice of India Mr. K.G. Balakrishnan. An enforceable right is one in which the aggrieved individual can seek remedy in a court of law. One of the excuses given by the government for its failure to pass a better Bill was that the Planning Commission was not willing to allocate funds towards social security. Some believe that the sole aim of the Bill is to gain points in the international community without bringing any change on the ground.

R. Geetha said that future legislation on social security should lay down a definition of social security, that is in line with the ILO conventions. For example, Old Age Pension should be fixed as 40% of the wage of the worker, not at an arbitrary rate as is the practise now. Today the Central government gives Rs 200 per month as pension, and this is supplemented by varying amounts by different state governments (Tamil Nadu state gives Rs 1000 per month). Another example is that of Non-employment pension. Different sectors have some amount of seasonal unemployment built into them – fishermen cannot fish in the breeding season of fish, salt workers and construction workers can not work in the monsoon etc. These should be taken into account, and a scheme of non-employment allowance should be demanded.  In terms of medical benefits, there are various patchwork schemes that exist on the ground today. But the only way to provide a unified health care system for unorganized workers is by including them in ESI (Employee state insurance), so that all their needs – OPD, testing and treatment for all ailments – are covered. Maternity and disability benefits also get covered by ESI.

In order for social security to truly reach workers, the labour welfare boards should be more representative (possibly half of the members should be workers). Currently the National Social security board has 6 members who are workers, out of the total 34. Further, welfare boards only go up to the district level. This should be changed and the Boards should go down to the taluk level to ensure decentralized implementation. Further, a grievance redressal mechanism should be built into the system. Currently, there is no avenue for workers to appeal if they are denied their benefits.

In our current neo-liberal economy, worker’s security is under severe threat. The position of domestic workers today is especially vulnerable – as rural poverty grows there is an ever-growing supply of domestic workers, and the likelihood of them getting exploited and abused has increased.We have to demand a comprehensive national level legislation that includes the provisions of the ILO conventions. Workers rights and security have to be safeguarded through penal provisions, for example by cancelling licenses of non-complying employers.

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