Domestic workers need urgent policy intervention guided by political will

Ms Dagmar Walter, Director ILO India, provided opening remarks at the 3rd WIF Conversation on Domestic Workers’ Rights, Working Conditions & Occupational Safety and Health Concerns: Challenges Prior to and During COVID-19

Statement | New Delhi, India | 13 July 2021
Namaskar and good afternoon to all participants, brothers and sisters from TU and first and foremost domestic workers!

With COVID-19, there is ample evidence that demonstrates the severe impact on women workers, directly as workers and indirectly due to their critical role in the care economy. Domestic workers have also been at the receiving end and need urgent attention and protection. As a sector, employing many migrant workers, both as live-in and live-out workers, domestic workers’ rights in the workplace must be guaranteed.

The trade union partners, with whom we are working consistently on domestic work through the Work in Freedom programme, have done a tremendous job during the pandemic. But we also realise that more needs to be done, in the form of a sector specific policy and legal recognition for minimum wages, social protection and prevention of exploitation.

One important study has examined the ‘State of occupational safety and health practices at workplace for domestic workers in COVID-19 and possibilities for action’. I am very happy and proud to launch this report today, now available on our website. I thank and congratulate those who have made this study see the light.

An important point raised by the report is ‘the unilateral and non-consultative imposition’ of terms binding return-to-work during relaxation of lockdown restrictions and its direct negative impact on the health and well-being of domestic workers. Domestic workers report that these conditions are offered as pre-conditions for return to work. The choice therefore is work with these conditions or loss of employment and income. Such terms of employment are not in accordance with international labour standards for workplace safety and well-being of workers. It also shows that pre-existing challenges of non-recognition as worker, lack of a legal written contract, paid leave, minimum wages etc. have been compounded by practices that have emerged in pandemic conditions.

Providing a normative framework of rights and responsibilities for employers, workers, and governments, International Labour Standards for Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) serve as guiding principles of a consultative process, via social dialogue, between representatives of workers, employers and governments to form policies and effective practice enabling the overall well-being of formal and informal workers.

An important standard setting, sector-specific international intervention has been the adoption of Convention 189 on decent work for domestic workers by the International Labour Conference of the ILO in 2011. Its ratification has been a long-standing demand of domestic workers and their trade unions in India as it lays out the minimum standards for upholding recognition of and guaranteeing rights to workers employed in a sector that provides employment to millions of workers in the country.

I hope this conversation today will provides us with an opportunity to reflect upon fundamental principles and right at work of domestic workers, the importance of workers’ organizations in channelling their experiences for policy consideration, direct responsibilities of employers and the urgent need for policy intervention guided by political will.

Thank you for your participation!