Domestic workers in India and minimum wage

While West Bengal may fix a minimum wage before March 2023, Tamil Nadu is demanding a State legislation to protect their rights

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In India, there is no dearth of incidents pertaining to exploitation of domestic helps. However, things seem to be moving in the right direction, albeit slowly, with many organisations fighting for their rights. While West Bengal is all set to fix minimum wage for domestic helps in three months’ time, Tamil Nadu may soon look at a legislation to offer them safety and security.

There are domestic helps in West Bengal who work for as measly a sum as Rs 800 per month. The luckier ones may earn Rs 1,000 a month. This is because the wages for domestic help in the State range from Rs 325 to Rs 350 daily. And this is remuneration for working ten hours! That means, if they are hired through agencies, they are paid about Rs 9,750 to Rs 10,500 a month. Cooks and other ‘skilled’ workers may earn just a week bit more. However, the bitter truth is that most of these domestic helps earn very little and do not even get a day off.

The Paschimbanga Griha Paricharika Samiti, a recognised trade union for domestic helps in West Bengal has been demanding that the State should fix a minimum wage for domestic help at the rate of Rs 75 per hour. The Samiti has also been demanding that domestic helps be given four days’ leave a month.

Earlier this year, the State government had decided that sweepers, cleaners and other ‘unskilled’ workers should get a minimum wage of Rs 355 a day. This comes to about Rs 9,239 a month. The minimum wage for such workers in the rural areas was fixed at Rs 322 daily, that is, about Rs 8,380 a month. But those rates were primarily set for establishments, not homes. However, these were applicable to workers in establishments and not domestic workers.

Now, West Bengal has set itself a deadline of three months in which to create a minimum-wage framework for domestic help, taking into account their varying hours and nature of work.

In Tamil Nadu, activists are seeking a separate legislation that will protect the rights of domestic workers in the State. They propose that one per cent of the house tax collected across Tamil Nadu should be invested in the welfare of domestic workers, and that a government directive be issued to fix a minimum wage.

A list of demands has been presented by the Tamil Nadu Domestic Workers Welfare Trust and Action Aid Association.

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