The Tamil Nadu government has established an advisory committee to define minimum wages for domestic workers in the state. The Deputy Commissioner of Labour, Coimbatore, is the Member Secretary of this advisory committee.
This is an outcome of almost a decade of struggle to define minimum wages for domestic workers. In 2007, the then ruling government brought domestic work under the list of scheduled employment. In 2009, a special committee was nominated to recommend minimum wages for domestic workers in Tamil Nadu; however, no action was taken on the recommendations made by the committee. After a series of concerted efforts over the years, an advisory committee has now been set up to revisit the matter.
“At the national level, we want India to ratify the International Labour Convention No. 189 on domestic workers,” says Com Waheeda Nizam, National Secretary, AITUC, who is a part of the advisory committee. “We also want the minimum wages for domestic workers to be based on the Indian Labour Conference (ILC) definition of minimum wages,” she adds. “The 41st ILC had recommended a National Minimum Wage of Rs. 15,000 per month for workers in any sector. This works out to Rs. 60 per hour, considering 8 working hours a day. The universal demand of the central trade unions is Rs. 18,000 per month, and this works out to Rs. 75 an hour.”
“There have been continuous efforts since 2007 to get this initiative going,” says Sujata Mody, President, Garment and Fashion Workers Union (GAFWU). “Things are certainly going in the right direction. But what we also need is a clearly laid out plan and timelines. Political will is critical.”
The trade union leaders believe that the scope of the committee should extend to benefits, such as overtime, weekly off, payment of bonus, healthcare, transport and rent. In addition, living conditions, especially for live-in domestic workers, are a matter of concern.
“Minimum living conditions need to be defined for live-in domestic workers.” says Waheeda. “Article 6 of Convention 189 clearly states the requirement for decent living conditions that respect the privacy of live-in domestic workers.”
“In most cases, domestic workers live close to the employer. These would usually be high-rent areas, which domestic workers are unable to afford,” says Sujata. “They end up spending most of their earnings on rent. It’s critical that a House Rent Allowance (HRA) component is provided to domestic workers. Transport subsidy and medical insurance, too, are vital.”
Currently, the committee is conducting field surveys across three districts in Tamil Nadu. On February 3, 2017, over fifteen domestic workers participated in one such field survey conducted by this committee. In addition to the Deputy Commissioner of Labour, Coimbatore, presiding over the field survey were M. Prabha, Anna Thozhir Sangam Peravai (ATP) and T.A. Latha, Vice-President, CITU.