Death throws light on miserable lives of domestic workers

The tragic death of a domestic help following a fall from a sixth-floor apartment has brought into sharp focus the miseries of a workforce, that is largely invisible and deprived of all social security benefits.

Strong protest

Determined not to let go of the incident as just another addition to the statistics of such tragedies, the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) is set to mount a strong public protest, seeking a permanent solution to the exploitation of domestic workers constituted of migrant women from neighbouring States, especially Tamil Nadu.

“Despite repeated demands, the migrant workers remain outside the ambit of the Unorganised Workers Social Security Board. They must be identified, recognised, and their rights should be ensured,” said Sonia George, State Secretary of SEWA and a member of the Board. She said that as per the labour code on occupational safety introduced by the Centre, it was the responsibility of the host State to ensure social security benefits for migrant workers and to transfer them to their home State when they moved back.

Ms. George said 500-odd women, including girls as young as 12 years, from a small radius within Villupuram district in Tamil Nadu, were engaged as domestic workers in Kerala, especially in the northern districts. The migrant domestic workers are often physically abused and lead a perpetually insecure life, stripped of even basic amenities such as a decent place to sleep.

“There are local agents, often relatives or neighbours, who recruit them. When approached to assess their condition, they and their families appear to be reluctant of interacting with people like us for fear of these agents,” said Ms. George.

Benoy Peter, executive director, Centre for Migration and Inclusive Development, said women from socially and economically marginalised families faced additional vulnerability.

“Domestic workers, especially those staying with employers, remain invisible and highly fragmented and are subjected to physical, verbal, and sexual abuse. In the case of really young ones, who may even be trafficked, their salary gets paid to their parents and it may not be sure whether the salary is being paid at all. Even their basic needs like food is at the mercy of employers, not to mention the denial of right to education,” he said.

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