Yesterday was International Domestic Workers Day. Domestic workers have an international day to recognize their labour, but have no minimum wage, legal recognition of work status, no protection against sexual harassment at workplaces or even the basic social security provisions that other workers are able to access in India. Highlighting this apathetic condition and demanding the Indian government to ratify the ILO convention on domestic workers (C189), Penn Thozhillalar Sangam, an affiliate of NTUI, had a demonstration and public meeting in Chennai.
Highlighting the many outstanding issues that domestic workers face, the domestic workers from many regions of Chennai, including Vandalur and Chemenchery, demanded that the government declare a minimum hourly wage of Rs 60/-, bring them under the Employees State Insurance scheme, stop evictions and provide housing within the city and to provide a monthly pension of not less than Rs 3000/- while reducing the retirement age to 55 years.
Over 150 domestic workers congregated at Valluvar Kottam, Chennai around 11:00 am for the public meeting. The fact that so many could turn up was a big achievement for a trade that does not even enjoy a weekly holiday. Many workers spoke about how they have been able to raise the issue of wage and weekly off with their employers and also mobilize other workers along those lines. Ms Karpagam, a domestic worker from Perumbakkam and an office bearer of PTS said “first it was difficult to get the employers to agree, I was asked to quit in two houses, but when I spoke to other workers and they too agreed, the employers finally had to accept our demands. It is necessary for all of us to work together and not against each other.” Ms Sumathi, who presided over the meeting, while explaining the rationale for the demands, highlighted the grave problems that women face in this profession. She also highlighted the problems faced by women workers when they are made to travel long distances due to eviction and resettlement in far away colonies. “many workers lost their jobs because of this, we demand that the government provide us housing close to the places we have resided and not throw us to the suburbs where there are no adequate jobs.”
Solidarity speakers included eminent feminist historian, Ms V.Geetha, who spoke of the right to education, health care and security that families of domestic workers are unable to secure because of the poor wages, lack of recognition and an apathetic government. “if we women refuse to work one day, the city will come to a stand still, try it once, just lay back in your house for a day, and ask the men to do the work and you will see how important our labour is. We are thrice burdened in this patriarchal society, we have to do the domestic chores in our house, go out and work for wage and also do the errands to run the house. Is there a single women who has any spare time save sleeping?” Union leaders of AICCTU and AITUC also spoke at the meeting lending solidarity to the workers.
After the vote of thanks by the president of Penn Thozhillalar Sangam, Ms Sujatha Mody, the meeting closed to a resounding cry for the ratification of ILO convention and guaranteeing minimum wage.