Why do people work? Why do we all go through different pains to earn a living? Why are some of us still doing jobs we don’t like? To win, right? Whether we like what we do or not, we work to make money. Having economic support, financial security and the assurance of a comfortable future. It is universally recognized that income is a basic necessity and ultimately we strive to improve the lives of our families and our own being. But what happens when the work you do is barely enough to make ends meet? And the amount of work you undergo is much greater? Besides, there is no law to protect you?
This is how our functional world treats domestic workers. With changing social lives, hectic schedules, and people constantly trying to strike a perfect balance between their personal and professional obligations, seeking help with household chores has become a part of everyone’s life. The majority of households today depend in one way or another on domestic help to carry out their daily routine. And with more and more women entering the workforce, the need for domestic support has also arisen.
Although the domestic worker industry seems to be emerging, the population involved here is highly undervalued and underpaid. Well, our economic structure has never given household chores the importance they deserve, or the people who do them the credit they deserve. Domestic chores add quality to life and value to how we construct our lifestyle, but we fail to identify their meaning.
“Official statistics put the number of employed domestic workers in India at 4.75 million (including 3 million women), but this is considered a serious underestimate and the true number is higher. Between 20 to 80 million workers. Regardless of such a large population being part of this sector, it is still considered part of the unorganized part of the economy. Women from modest and illiterate strata are major players in this field.
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Discrimination against domestic workers
As we unravel the layers of operation in this section, the ugly truth of discrimination and poor working conditions becomes visible. Domestic workers are very underpaid and the amount of work they do is grossly undervalued. There are a number of factors that contribute to this. 1) Large labor supply 2) Undervaluation of domestic work and its contribution to society 3) Low bargaining power of domestic workers 4) Lack of representation in the sector and frequent exclusion of labor protection.
Although every profession is protected by the “minimum wage law”, there is no such law to help domestic workers to fight against their exploitation at the hands of the employer. Some Indian states have attempted to incorporate the law into their legal systems, but the prescribed wages for domestic workers are kept low compared to other professions that fall short of the target.
The lack of representation of this part of society has led to huge economic inequalities in society. Since most workers fall into the unskilled labor category, they have very little choice when it comes to entering the labor market. They are already struggling with the poor living conditions and therefore end up accepting any offer they can get.
But is remuneration the solution to everything? The answer is no.
Low income is a major problem in the industry, but the challenges these domestic workers face go far beyond that. Workers are often subjected to different forms of discrimination by their employers. They are deprived of basic human ethics when working. “The borders between countries are marked by fences, but the borders between classes are demarcated by where you can sit, where you can go to the bathroom, and where and with whom you can eat.”
Workers are deprived of basic human ethics while working. Lack of access to restrooms, unlimited working hours, denial of time off, lack of access to raises or bonuses, and general biased behavior are serious issues we need to reflect on. Even though the country has gone through decades of transformation, people from the lower strata of society regularly fall prey to prejudice. How do we recover from it?
We need conversations and a firm resolve. Where is the representation of these workers? An occasional news headline or identifying numbers won’t make a difference unless we, as a whole, don’t act on it. Domestic workers are home builders and the least they deserve is basic human decency and the right to a good life. We need to understand the fact that our economy will thrive if the people doing the work are able to get paid for it.
From our morning tea to our dinner, from dirty laundry to clean clothes, from the mess of a home to an organized living space, every worker has sacrificed their time and effort to make our lives comfortable. So it’s high time we started to be grateful for that.
The opinions expressed are those of the author