Bridging domestic help-employer gap through empowerment

Bridging domestic help-employer gap through empowerment

The ultra chic, designer highrise apartments that have mushroomed across the City might look a generation ahead of the pathetically under-served slums.

But there is a very human link, an oft-ignored, symbiotic, mutually beneficial connection between the relatively privileged apartment-resident and the slum-dweller: The unsung domestic workers, whose lives and their slum homes could dramatically improve if this link
were to be proactively strengthened.

One such effort is now silently gathering steam in Bangalore.

Driven by the passion of a few concerned individuals, this non-government initiative is aimed at empowering the women workers with knowledge of rights and privileges that clearly belonged to them. A Worker Facilitation Centre, set up as part of this pilot project by the Domestic Workers Rights Union (DWRU), is designed exactly to do this task: To help the members apply for and benefit from all the available government schemes, and explore ways to improve their working and living environments.

Surely, their employers in those apartments should have a role. The Centre is bound to get the members visibility and a voice, without which they have no identity.

“Since they have no strong, organised identity, they are not even recognised as workers. There are people who have worked for 23 years and dismissed without any benefits.
Once they are registered with the Centre, there is some kind of proof and their condition
could change,” Geetha Menon, a social activist guiding the Centre, told Deccan Herald.

Currently registered with the Centre are about 3,000 workers, employed as domestic helps, cooks, baby-sitters and those doing other chores in houses from Banashankari to Kundalahalli near Marathahalli. To boost the membership, the Centre staff are now fanning out to the slums in Banashankari, Ragigudda and Thyagarajanagar, registering them on the spot, educating them about the schemes hitherto denied to them.

So, how can the employers get involved? “They could give us some space within their apartment complexes to register the domestic workers employed there. This way, we could prepare a database of a wide range of workers, and connect them to the schemes and other benefits,” explained Menon.

Crucial objective

To give the unorganised workers a framework of social security is a crucial objective of the Centre.

The intention is that the provisions of the 2008 Unorganised Workers Social Security Act could at least see some action. Grievance redress is another critical role.
Cases of workplace harassment, including sexual, and allegations of theft, are often registered uncontested at the police stations. Members could now hope some remedial action.

The Act mandates formulation of social security schemes such as life and disability cover, health and maternity benefits, old-age protection and other benefits. Under the Act, the State had set up facilitation centres generally for the unorganised sector in a few districts and an urban centre in Mangalore.

Through its pilot centre in Bangalore, the DWRU now wants to demonstrate to the Labour department the viability of a setup exclusively for domestic workers.

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