Kohima, June 13 (EMN): Center for Development Initiatives (CDI) Deputy Director Guwahati, Sr. Molly Mathew said Monday that domestic work is unregulated in many settings because it is invisible and takes place in the private space of homes, which is not defined as a “place of work”.
She said the lack of regulation of domestic work devalues the economic and social contribution of this work to development. This fosters situations of worker abuse and exploitation, including contract substitution, poor wages, non-payment or late payment of wages, very long working hours, lack of breaks or rest days, restrictions on freedom of movement and association, among others.
Matthew was speaking at a state-level workshop on Decent Work and Dignified Lives for Domestic Workers Beyond COVID-19 hosted by Ferrando Domestic Workers’ Alliance (FDWA), Kohima in conjunction with the Center for Development Initiatives (CDI), Guwahati, at St. Francis de Sales Parish Hall (SFS) in Kohima.
CDI has been working with domestic workers since 2004 and they have helped around 23,000 domestic workers in northeast India, covering 12 cities in six states, Mathew informed, adding that it is with the support of many stakeholders. and the Department of Labor of various States that they were able to realize the dignity of domestic work and workers to some extent.
In Kohima alone, she explained how they are currently working with 719 domestic workers. She informed that out of 719 domestic workers in the district, they got about 649 Aadhaar cards, 38 health cards and 190 ration cards while they opened 520 bank accounts for domestic workers.
According to her, the wages of 714 domestic workers are paid in cash and not through banks, while the figure of those who have no other source of income stands at 694.
Stating that domestic workers have been the most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, she informed that out of the 12 towns including Kohima, CDI has supported 64,000 households with dry rations, medical support and counselling.
Mathew said that they conducted an assessment study on the working and living conditions of domestic workers during the COVID-19 outbreak and were able to collect 8070 data on domestic workers online to know the speed of the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on them.
Speaking on the occasion, Chothalu Phesao, Senior Supervisor, 181 – Women Helpline, Nagaland said that domestic workers in the state are often looked down upon and treated simply as servants. As a result, Nagas do not get domestic work due to the demand for high wages, while migrants are readily accepted by employers “because they are willing to work for a cheaper rate”.
Some serious issues that domestic workers face almost daily, she said, are violation of rights, low rate of pay, lack of leave, lack of a fixed minimum wage, verbal abuse, sexual and all kinds in the workplace, late payment, sudden dismissal without prior information to the worker, etc.
“According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), domestic work refers to work carried out in the domestic space, such as sweeping, cleaning utensils, washing clothes, cooking, caring for children, etc., by an individual for an employer in return. for a fee,” she said.
Phesao recounted how a domestic worker working as a cook had her earnings robbed at the start of the lockdown as she continued to struggle even after regulations were later relaxed.
It was learned that despite returning to work, a suspicious look replaced the warmth of yesteryear, as the worker was now seen as a potential carrier of the virus by her employers. The worker is sprayed with disinfectant all over before being allowed into the house, she added.
“She doesn’t like it and her skin itches all the time but if she wants to feed her family, that’s her only alternative,” Phesao said.
Meanwhile, she argued that domestic workers’ demands are simple as they just want their basic rights from the state government, such as recognition of domestic workers as workers, protection from all types harassment, social security and access to social benefits, etc.
Women less represented in decision-making, politics
Nginyei Konyak, a member of the Nagaland State Commission for Women, speaking on the economic status of women in Nagaland, said that there are many women as breadwinners.
While there is no denying the gender disparity that exists in Naga society, she said women are less represented in areas such as decision-making and politics. However, when it came to other indices of modern society such as education, life skills, creativity, and intellectual pursuits, she valued Naga women “who are second to none”.
She also argued that many domestic workers or helpers are women supporting their families. “Every type of work, be it domestic work, is dignified and decent,” she said.
Nagaland being an agricultural state, she applauded women for playing a vital role as “seed keepers”.
T Chubayanger, project manager at the Labor Department, said domestic workers “have a lot of power in their hands”.
He also highlighted the need to register Kohima domestic workers in the department and impart soft skills for livelihood activities.
Representing domestic workers, Golapi Thapa, shared the ordeal they faced during the unprecedented pandemic, and thanked FDWA Kohima and all concerned for their help in times of crisis.
Ainato Yetho, Deputy Director of Nagaland AIDS Control Society, Kohima, highlighted the basics of HIV/AIDS and the free treatment available to those infected.
FDWA Kohima’s outgoing city coordinator, Sr. Theresa Langhu, shared how they have been working to improve the living and working conditions of domestic workers over the past seven years.
She asked to continue giving her support and valuable help in strengthening the organization for the welfare of the marginalized section of the society.
She also welcomed Sr. Agnes Khala, who will replace her as the new coordinator of FDWA Kohima.
During the event, discussions and the development of action plans also took place for the well-being of domestic workers.