They are home managers, not servants

Domestic workers are being trained in a host of skills to make them employable anywhere

As the capital is intermittently reminded of the grim reality of thousands of domestic workers exploited by their placement agencies and employers, some voluntary bodies are trying to organise them under one umbrella with dual purpose – giving them a voice for collective bargaining and changing their image from being ‘domestic servants’ to dignified ‘home managers’.

The domestic workers who end up being exploited, in most cases, have no knowledge of their basic human rights, forget about legal rights. 

The Domestic Workers’ Federation, a Delhi-based registered charitable trust, is organising a ‘capacity building programme’ to unite domestic workers in order to give them a collective voice. 

“We are focusing on different aspects under the capacity building programme. It includes making them aware about their rights, training to organise, develop leadership, about health issues and skill development,” says project manager Kamalchand. 

Stakeholders say the `movement' is still at a nascent stage. 

“We are focusing on organising them first. Rescuing some of the domestic workers from precarious condition is just one way of looking at it. We are trying to build a system wherein these people start demanding their legitimate rights. And the first and foremost step towards achieving it is that all the stakeholders — domestic workers, employers and the government — understand that they are `workers' and not `servants'. They are home managers,” says Kamalchand. 

Kamalchand says the forum has been divided into 64 zones across the city.

“The zonal leaders are being trained to take the capacity building programme forward. The leaders are trained in filing FIRs, dealing with government officials, following cases in courts.

 The target is to develop these leaders into individuals who can run their own independent forums one year down the line,” says Kamalchand.

The federation members say such initiatives have already started showing results. Some of the small unions formed by domestic workers in Vasant Kunj and Vasant Vihar have already started demanding a weekly off, paid leave on public holidays and timely revision of their wages.

On the legal side, the social organisation is also trying to bring relief to workers by pushing for inclusion of domestic workers in the list of the Minimum Wages Act under the Delhi government. 

“We are demanding the Delhi government to include domestic workers in the list of workers covered under the Sixth Schedule of the Minimum Wages Act. It is a state subject and six other states — Jharkhand, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Kerala — have already done it,” says Kamalchand. 

The organisation is also running resource centres in Jharkhand, Bengal and Assam, from where the maximum migration of domestic workers is recorded. They are providing preliminary training to young boys and girls on domestic chores so that it increases their chances of getting a better job. 

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