Domestic workers aren’t treated with respect, denied leave and paid poorly. Now, they are here to fight for their rights – organising a demonstration in Kolkata and demanding trade union status
How often have you thought of offering a weekly day off to the person who helps you in your domestic work? Not when s/he falls ill, but as a regular, weekly day off from work the way you get your weekly off from office?
Ever thought of offering her/him casual leave, sick leave, earn leave, annual bonus without their pleadings? How many of you asked them to sit by your side on the couch instead of talking to them while they sit on the floor? Ever treated them as equal and with kindness, respect and sympathy?
Baby Naskar tried hard to fight back tears as she talked about the routine exploitation of domestic workers – who experience poor working conditions and are among the worst placed in the unorganised labour sector in the country.
“There have been times when, despite domestic helps falling ill at their employers’ homes, were not even taken to hospitals. There is the issue of little pay. And then, no one thinks it important to protect them from sexual harassment of employers,” Naskar said.
Baby Naskar, who works as domestic worker, is now president of Durbar Disha Mahila Grihashramik Samanway Committee (DDMGSC), an organisation of domestic workers in Dum Dum.
“We have no rights or entitlement related to our job. There is no guarantee that I won’t lose my job during pregnancy or for other health issues. If we visit the police with our problems we get no assurance that action will be taken. Almost every time, we have to ‘settle’ such matters with our employers,” added Moumita Naskar, secretary of DDMGSC.
Several similar units from different parts of West Bengal will come together on June 22 for a convention at Rani Rashmoni Avenue in Kolkata’s Dalhousie area to demand their rights and to raise their voices against such exploitation. The organisation is now active in some localities of Dum Dum with 750 members, like many others in various parts of the state. Most of these branches along with other nongovernmental organisations from all over West Bengal are coming together to participate in the demonstration titled, “grihashramik adhikar abhijan” (demonstration for rights of the domestic workers).
They will march from Seladah to Rani Rashmoni Avenue – approximately 10 km – and present a deputation before chief minister Mamata Banerjee and state labour minister Malay Ghatak.
The organisers say that they are not affiliated to any political party, but “since it is an issue a large number of people can connect with, we expect a turnout of nearly 3,000 persons,” says Ratna Mondal, another member of the organisation.
The main demands include recognition as labourers with a minimum basic pay apart from being able to form trade unions, assurances on compulsory maternity leave, pension after 60 years of age, four leaves per month, benefits under the Employees State Insurance Corporation and bonus pay once a year.
Apart from these demands they also want the government to set up creches where they can keep their children while they work, and a “Welfare Board” to look into their complaints.
DDMGSC is yet to receive a registration as trade union. “We were frustrated with the condition of domestic workers and thought of forming our organisation in 2010. We applied for trade union recognition in 2011, but there has been no communication from the government since,” says Baby.
“We had organised a demonstration in 2016 when our representatives met the Governor and other dignitaries and delivered our demands in writing. Even in 2017 on June 16 (recognised as International Domestic Workers Day) we had participated in several street corner meetings and demonstrations but none of our demands were fulfilled,” she added.
According to Baby Naskar, “We also met several trade union leaders so they raise demands for our plight, but it didn’t yield any result. So we are going to hit the streets on June 22.”
Secretary of the Kolkata district committee of Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), Debanjan Chakraborty said, “We have tried to organise domestic workers locally and pushed for demands like minimum wage, enrolment in Rashtriya Swastha Bima Yojna (RSBY) and Provident Fund (PF). We welcome this effort and if they want our help we will be by their side.”
CITU has offered its views at a meeting with the organisation recently, though the CPIM’s trade union wing won’t participate in the June 22 demonstration.
President of the Indian National Trinamool Trade Union Congress, Dola Sen, also a Rajya Sabha member, said, “I have been sensitive to their cause, but there were legal problems about the demand to be recognised as a trade union. However, we are working for their welfare.”
Last week, another organisation, the Paschimbanga Griha Paricharika Samiti (PGPS-West Bengal Domestic Workers Society) received a trade union certificate from the state government.
This brings hope for the domestic workers, who have been struggling for decades with demands of better pay and better working conditions. The June 22 meeting in Kolkata should also make the authorities and employers take notice.
Cover Picture: Ganga Naskar, who works as a domestic help in Kolkata’s Kasba area. She has heard about the meeting of domestic workers, but is not part of the organisation