Working & Living Conditions of Women Domestic Workers: Insights from a Survey.

AuthorBino, Paul G.D.


As per traditions, domestic work was considered to be an 'unpaid work' performed mainly by women in the family. However, of late, in the changing economic conditions, occupations in industries are becoming lucrative (ILO, 2010). As a result, more women, especially from middle-class families (Ellinor, 2006), are participating in the labor market. Therefore, the so-called 'un-paid non-market activity' (domestic work), to an extent, remained out of the purview of occupational options available for educated persons. The new segmentation of domestic work in the form of an outsourced activity has raised the importance of the occupation higher than ever before. Often, migrant workers or economically weaker sections of the society participate in it. Indeed, millions of people participate in this work (ILO, 2010).

It makes domestic work a pivotal occupation in determining the linkage between family and dynamics of the open economy. Across the globe, although this linkage is quite vivid, reflected in ever expanding demand from families for domestic worker's service, provision of entitlements to this occupational category varies across countries. While countries in the Western Europe have systems of social security for domestic workers, transition economies such as India are yet to come up with an appropriate system of entitlements for domestic workers.

In the Indian context, the enormity of informal work is an observable phenomenon. Approximately 93% of the work force is in paid work, in farming and non-farming activities. Most of them are not entitled to any social security benefits. Moreover, these workers tend to receive relatively lower wages than formal sector workers. As observed, persons with more years of schooling (close to ten years), appear to have higher chances of getting formal work, which makes them eligible for entitlements like social security, while persons with fewer years of schooling may end up in lower echelons of the labor market, earning lower wages and that too without social security (NSSO, 2012). Importantly, the dichotomy of formal-informal work co-exists with glaring low labor force participation of women. Although, across age groups, female work participation rate is much lower than male work participation rate, in some occupations females far exceed males. This is quite evident in the occupational category, domestic work. Domestic work seems to be the destiny of a significantly massive number of women workers in India who seek employment opportunities in the urban sector, often rendering an invisible workforce with low pay. Reflecting on indecent working and living condition of women domestic workers, it is viewed that "Working in the unregulated domain of a private home, mostly without the protection of national labor legislation, allows for female domestic workers to be maltreated by their employers with impunity. Women are often subjected to long working hours and excessively arduous tasks. They may be strictly confined to their places of work. The domestic workforce is excluded from labor laws that look after important employment-related issues such as conditions of work, wages, social security, provident funds, old age pensions, and maternity leave (NCEUS, 2007: 86).

India lags behind other nations in extending rights to domestic workers. As shown in ILO (2010), India is yet to provide core entitlements for decent work like maternity benefit. On the other hand, 26 nations, including developed and developing countries provide 12-14 weeks of maternity leave for domestic workers (1). In India, the National Minimum Wages Act 1948 excludes domestic workers from its purview. However, states may fix a minimum wage for domestic workers within their territory (2). Another deficit is the lack of social security to domestic workers in India, while there have been noteworthy initiatives by other countries to provide different types of social security to domestic workers (examples include occupational safety and health, workers' compensation for employment injuries, general health care, pension and unemployment insurances).

In fact, for women engaged in domestic work, in particular in urban India, even generating subsistence level income entails a complicated process of scheduling of activities as they tend to work with multiple employers, who prefer flexible forms of labor contracts like the part-time engagement of domestic workers. Unfortunately, these workers, faced with the risk of working in indecent conditions, are enmeshed in a system with an excess supply of workers. Often, they offer services to relatively well-off households who are likely to have much better availability of rights and entitlements. Against this backdrop, we discuss fundamental socio-economic aspects of women domestic workers in India, with particular reference to the sprawling urban agglomeration, Mumbai. Using a survey method, we collected data from 1510 domestic workers on various life and work-related characteristics. This paper presents a descriptive statistical view of life and work of domestic workers in a metropolitan city. Based on the findings, we present a conceptual view at the end besides relevant policy implications of the findings.

Methodology of Research

We conducted a field survey between September 2009 and March 2010. Adecco-TISS Labor Market Research Initiative (ATMRI) and Jagrut Ghar Kamgar Sanghathan (JGKS) carried out the fieldwork in collaboration. The core objective of the survey was to collect data on the nature of service, health status, gender profile and other domestic work-related aspects. The JGKS is a membership-based trade union working for the cause of women domestic workers in Mumbai, with a membership base of 12,000.

Following the socio-economic surveys, in particular, the National Sample Survey (NSS), we prepared a schedule of enquiry which contained personal and household profile of the domestic workers, their work profile, access to social security, health, habitat and domestic violence. Initially, we conducted a pilot survey of 30 respondents. Based on the experience during the pilot survey, we brought about minor changes to the schedule of enquiry. Finally, the survey was launched, which took approximately seven months to complete. We covered 1510 respondents who lived in the western suburbs of Mumbai, in areas like Andheri, Jogeshwari, Bandra, Mahim, Vile Parle, Malad, Borivali, and Goregaon. Using exploratory statistical tools, we present here the frequency...

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