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Modi govt's new deal for domestic workers. Will it work?

Vishakh Unnikrishnan | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:48 IST

Last August, Union Minister for Labour Bandaru Dattatreya announced that the government was working on a draft policy for domestic workers. For the past one year the Centre prepared a national policy proposing a minimum salary of Rs 9,000 per month for skilled and full-time household helps. This would also include social security benefits, mandatory leaves and health benefits.

The issue, concerning more than five million workers, has been before the government for quite some time.

The exploitation of domestic workers is an issue the previous government did take note of. It introduced a national policy for domestic workers in 2007 which never took off. Presently, no policy even defines who a domestic worker is. This means that the approximately 5 million odd domestic workers in the country not have any rights to back on.

Last August, Union Minister for Labour Bandaru Dattatreya announced that the government was working on a draft

With no specific timeline for the legislation and no blueprint for its implementation, many criticised the policy for not being promising.

The government however, is in the process of starting a pilot project that promises heath insurance for the 5 million odd domestic workers.

The scheme

The labour ministry is about to launch a new scheme beginning with a pilot version in the national capital in the second week of August where the employer can finance for the health cover of a domestic worker and his or her family for just Rs2,400 a year, which comes down to just Rs200 a month.

The employer can do so by contributing Rs 200 a month to the employee's account with the Employees State Insurance Corporation that would ensure health benefits to the entire family of the employee under the Employees State Insurance Act, 1948 (ESI Act).

The ESI Act of 1948, encompasses various ailments and health related problems workers generally face, including sickness, temporary and permanent disability, occupational diseases and even maternity leave

The money will be transferred to the registered Employees' State Insurance Corporation (ESIC) hospitals and dispensaries. Domestic workers would include maids, drivers, caretakers and chefs.

The advantage of the scheme is that there is no ceiling with respect the expenditure incurred by the employee or his/her family. The scheme, however, will be launched on voluntary basis There will also be no direct cash benefits.

This social security cover for domestic help is part of the national policy for domestic workers.


"Minimum wage according to the labour laws in Delhi for domestic workers employed for 8 hours is Rs 9,500 a month. This itself is not followed. Why would the government think they would pay for the domestic worker's health insurance? The domestic workers have no voice presently. What is important is to sensitise the worker employee relationship," said Rishi Kant, who works for an NGO, Shakti Vahini.

"I have not seen any case where a female domestic worker has been paid her due amount of Rs 9,500 a month," he adds.

Domestic workers in the national capital while welcoming the move are although critical of the scheme. Sewa, an NGO that works towards the rights of domestic workers, among other things, had organised a session recently where they discussed the labour ministry's schemes.

The one major drawback of the scheme is the mandatory Aadhar provision. In a session organised by Sewa among domestic workers, many argued that they have yet not received a Aadhar Card, and many had just shifted to Delhi a year back. "The government is hell bent on making n Aadhar Card compulsory for availing schemes. This has caused a lot of problems. We have other ID cards and I don't know why that doesn't suffice," said Sitara a migrant from Uttar Pradesh who works as a domestic help in East Dehi.

"The move is a welcome step even with all their drawbacks. Domestic Workers however would rather pay their monthly cover themselves rather that depend on the employer," says Anju Bala, who works for the rights of domestic workers for the NGO Sewa.

But many of them were happy with the maternity leave benefits that the government promises through the scheme.

Jagori, a NGO working for women's rights and gender equality says that in Delhi itself, 38% of all domestic workers returned to work in the first three months after childbirth.

Even with all the drawbacks, the scheme is a ray of hope for many.

First published: 27 July 2016, 9:03 IST
Vishakh Unnikrishnan @sparksofvishdom

A graduate of the Asian College of Journalism, Vishakh tracks stories on public policy, environment and culture. Previously at Mint, he enjoys bringing in a touch of humour to the darkest of times and hardest of stories. One word self-description: Quipster.