Need for Statutory Regulation of Working Conditions of Domestic Workers

By Abhishek Kaushal 27 Minutes Read

l. Introduction

Among the various sectors of employment, most workforce can be seen in the informal sector. Street vendors, household workers, waste pickers, agricultural labourers and the famous “chotu”, found in almost every sweatshop in our country, are the most common jobs in the Informal sector. This workforce makes up for 92% of the total workforce present in India.[1] Domestic workers form a significant part in this large informal sector.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) defines domestic work as the ‘work which is performed in a household or for a household’ and domestic workers as ‘people who are engaged in domestic work within an employment relationship.’[2] From the aforesaid definition, it can be understood that a domestic worker is only confined to household work which involves ‘cleaning, dusting, driving vehicles, cooking, washing clothes or laundry, gardening, taking care of older people, sick people and children.’ There can be two types of domestic workers, i.e. ones living in the premises for their employer (full time workers) like a helper which is involved in all household chores and the ones working in part time (for example, a maid only for cleaning or cooking or gardener), usually who work for more than one employer.

These are the kind of workers, which are unregistered and unorganised and therefore there does not exist any data for the actual number of their population, but through various official and unofficial sources it is estimated to range from 42 lakhs[3] to 5 crores.[4] As domestic work basically consists of household chores or private work, the gender ratio over the period is female dominant. The census of 2001 estimates that women and girls constitute about two thirds of the domestic worker population. The same source states that there is a total of 1.86 lakh children under the age of 14 who are working as domestic workers. The number keeps on increasing with time.

There are many reasons due to which such population keeps increasing, which is the lack of proper medical facilities, lack of employment, any natural disaster or calamity like drought or flood, lack of education, lack of skill and training required for any proper job, and with no other source of income or when they are displaced from their own land. These problems force the domestic workers to migrate from one place, town, region or state to another and generally to urban areas to seek employment or work. As they do not have the requisite skill set for a proper job in the organised sector, they are only offered a job in the unorganised sector. As per the 61st round of Employment and Unemployment Survey of NSSO, more than two thirds of the domestic workers population are employed in the urban sector.

II.  Problems of domestic workers

Due to the nature of their work and other reason, there various diverse problems which domestic workers have to go through. These problems can be broadly categorised in the following five points,

  • Lack of knowledge and Skill

Domestic workers majorly belong to the marginalised sections of the society. These are the people who are already suffering from poverty which destabilises their chance of survival and even if they are able to barely thrive, many of these do not have the requisite skill set or training or knowledge about a job or a field of work and also have no or little literacy levels.

  • Lack of proper legislations

Out of the various labour laws enacted till date, there are only a handful which actually attempts to provide some semblance of social security. Apart from that, these workers are majorly excluded from such legislations. The reason for being outside the scope of various laws is due to the unrecognised and unregistered work that they undertake.

  • Harassment and maltreatment

Their nature of work being private and very informal, domestic workers are subjected to abusive treatment and harassment. For example, workers are made to work overtime with no extra pay, wages are cut for ridiculous excuses by the employers, many young females are harassed at their workplaces.  Their working conditions are poor, etc. and as they cannot leave the job (due to financial constraints) despite such treatment that they face.

  • Lack of Awareness and Unions

Domestic workers are an isolated kind of workforce, there is no board or organisation or union which could attend to their grievances or could take their cause with the government for extending them proper conditions of employment including social security through legislation. Now, even if such boards shall exist or legislations shall be enacted, there is a lack of awareness among the workers, inhibiting them from voicing their problems.

  • Existence of alternatives and high supply

Domestic work can be less cumbersome in general and efficient with the help of technology. But too much reliance on technology will make them jobless. Therefore they must be given training from time to time to make them technology friendly and efficient so that they do not become surplus and also there is mobility for better job alternatives for them.

III. Efforts to have Statutory Law for Domestic Workers

Many attempts to introduce various Bills in Indian Parliament to enact a law regulating employment and determination of service conditions of domestic workers.

Bills Concerning Domestic Workers

The first Bill concerning the domestic workers were in relation to domestic workers and the conditions of their employment, namely, The Domestic Workers (Conditions of Employment) Bill, 1959 and All India Domestic Servants Bill, 1959. But these bills never saw the light of the day. Several attempts were made to introduce Bills even thereafter in Lok Sabha. The National Commission for Women was responsible to get two Bills drafted, i.e. The Domestic Workers (Decent Working Conditions) Bill, 2015, introduced as a private member’s bill in Parliament by Dr. Kirit Premjibhai Solanki (Member of Parliament) with the objective of enacting a national law for provision of decent working conditions for domestic workers and making registration for all involved parties mandatory and for other related matters. Further, The Domestic Workers (Regulation Of Work And Social Security) Bill, 2017 (hereinafter referred as “Bill of 2017”) introduced as a private bill in the Parliament by Mr. S.P. Dutta (Member of parliament) which not only made the registration mandatory but also aimed to provide the domestic workers with social security benefits which the Act of 2008 had not extended to them.

Extending Social Security benefit to Domestic Workers

a. Unorganised workers social security Act, 2008

One of the most important legislation which addresses the need of social security provisions for the unorganised sector is Unorganised Workers Social Security Act, 2008 (hereinafter referred to as “Act of 2008”). The Act includes social security benefits (upon which policies can be formulated) like health benefits, maternity benefits, old age benefits, provident fund, funeral assistance, provision of education for children, housing, etc. It provides for formation of National and State social security Boards for recommending, advising, monitoring and reviewing social security welfare schemes. Also, it extends the following social security schemes under the Act:

  1. Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme.
  2. National Family Benefit Scheme.
  3. Janani Suraksha Yojana.
  4. Handloom Weavers’ Comprehensive Welfare Scheme.
  5. Handicraft Artisans’ Comprehensive Welfare Scheme.
  6. Pension to Master craft persons.
  7. National Scheme for Welfare of Fishermen and Training and Extension.
  8. Janshree Bima Yojana.
  9. Aam Admi Bima Yojana.
  10. Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana.

While domestic workers were included in the ambit of the Act, they were not defined under the Act but were only included within the definition of the wage worker under section 2(m) of the Act. Since, the kind of workforce that was to be included in the category of domestic workers under the Act was not defined, it made the implementation of the provision of the Act for these workers very difficult.

Another drawback of this Act was that the registration of the workforce included in this Act was not mandatory, but only the registered workforce was made entitled to availing social security benefits mentioned. Further, out of the above-mentioned schemes, domestic workers are only covered under the health insurance scheme of Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY) that also after extension made in the scheme for their inclusion in the year 2011.[5]The scheme made the registration very simple as the workers would only have to get identification certificates from any two of the following – RWA (resident welfare association), police, employer or registered trade union. The extension was aimed to prevent exploitation of the work force and provide insurance benefits to them.[6]

While RSBY was prima facie helpful, there was a low level of awareness of the scheme and in order to initiate the treatment, the beneficiaries had to pay some expenses from their pockets.[7] Apart from that, in exception of a few, the scheme proved to be useful for the domestic workers.  It will be pertinent to state that the Supreme Court in Shramjeevi Mahila Samiti v. State of NCT of Delhi[8] found complete in action on the part of the central government in extending the benefits of the Act to domestic workers and had to give concrete direction in this respect. The directions were given in the following facts and circumstances:

There was a petition filed by the Shramjeevi Mahila Samiti, informing the court that the Unorganised Workers Social Security Act was enacted in 2008, and since then several schemes have been framed, yet no benefits have been made available to the domestic workers. That’s because of the reason that these workers were not registered under the Act till then.

It is in this factual matrix that the court ordered on 11th January 2018 the court ordered that the governments should begin registration (along with issuing identification certificates) till next month.

But the guidelines given in the above order were not complied with. As a result, the court after getting annoyed by such information, directed the central government to not disburse any funds or grant to those States which have not complied with its earlier order of January 11, 2018.[9] The above case makes us understand the apathy and insensitivity of the government for the development of the vulnerable sections of the society.

Similar inaction can be observed in National Domestic Workers Welfare Trust, Ranchi v. The State of Jharkhand & Others,[10] where no welfare boards were constituted under the Act of 2008 by the State of Jharkhand. The court ordered for the constitution of such Boards and issued similar directions as in the earlier case. Even after when the boards were made, there was not a single meeting held regarding any discussion of extending benefits of under the Act of 2008 to domestic workers.

b. Extending the provisions of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 to domestic workers

Domestic Workers are also included in The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013[11] which prevents and prohibits sexual harassment taken place in domestic households (workplace). The Act provides for a redressal mechanism for the complaints and grievances of such domestic worker, and also provides for monetary relief. But the drawback of the Act is that it is only limited to the cases related to harassment only of women and not male especially of tender age.

c. Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986.

This Act focusses on child labour, its prohibition and regulation, on 10th October 2006 through a notification issued by the central government under Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act, 1986 (CLPRA) which prohibited the employment of children as domestic help who are below the age of 14 years[12]. But this Act also has the same drawback, being only limited to children and not the remaining population of domestic workers. In both of these cases, the male domestic workers are left out of the relief granted under this Act. The case of Child Welfare Committee vs Govt. Of Nct of Delhi[13], points out a situation where a minor girl was sold by a placement agency, to a family as a domestic servant. This case brought to light the poor condition of various minor domestic workers which are taken by placement agencies, majority of these children come from the disadvantaged sections of the society and are sent to cities for household work. The child went through such atrocities despite the fact there was a notification under the Act for its prohibition.

IV.  Need for a policy on rights for domestic workers and enactment of statutory framework

               After a comprehensive analysis of the problems which are faced by domestic workers and the legislation proposed, it can be safely inferred that the government has turned a blind eye to domestic workers’ plight. In general scenarios, a policy is made after an extensive research of such field (here, informal sector). But even after so many labour laws been enacted, the constant ability of the government in ignoring the fastest growing sector for women for employment in urban areas is saddening. It gives out the feeling that there is a lack of political will to enact a comprehensive law which would be able to provide social security and safeguard the rights of domestic workers. Keeping in mind that there already exist useful guidelines given in the International Labour Organisation Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers (Convention 189) which is still not ratified by India.

In light of such statement, the following the recommendations are made:

The policy for domestic workers shall have the following features,

  1. Defining the scope of domestic workers (who shall come under domestic workers), also defining employer (who can employ a domestic worker) and establishment.
  2. Establishment of National, State and Domestic Welfare Boards.
  3. Provision for social security benefits like, financial assistance, medical assistance, marriage expense, funeral expenses, pension, accidental death, expenses for education of children etc.
  4. Provision for minimum wages and payment for overtime and fixing of working hours.
  5. Making registration of domestic workers, employers and intermediaries like Resident Welfare Association, mandatory. Issuing of identification cards for the same.
  6. Provision for a grievance redressal mechanism which would be as simple for the domestic workers are able to understand.
  7. Provision of legal aid (contribution of legislation costs by the boards), for better access to courts and lawyers.
  8. Proper awareness so that the domestic worker does not have be harassed or exploited due to lack of knowledge for such remedy available.
  9. Granting domestic workers with the right to form unions and associations.
  10. Provision of basic education for the illiterate.
  11. Provision of skill training and development for better job opportunities in the future.
  12. The beneficiaries shall contribute an annual amount to the board, as annual registration.
  13. Prohibition of harassment and abusive treatment or exploitation by the employer and the placement agency.
  14. Provision for housing for the workers.
  15. Regular sample surveys to be conducted for feedback to the board.

Many Bills have been drafted from time to time but with no success. The Bills introduced in the Parliament, like Unorganised Sector Workers Bill, 2004 proposed by the Ministry of Labour, or the Domestic Workers (Conditions of Service) Bill, 2009 which was introduced by Shri Arjun R. Meghwal, or the Domestic Workers Rights Campaign in the year 2010 have not made any headway. Even after enactment of Unorganised Workers Social Security Act, 2008, Sexual Harassment Act, 2013 and notification under the Child Labour Act, 1986, there does not exist a law which covers domestic workers which gives any definition of domestic worker, employer and establishment.

In light of such distress, the National Commission for Women made an attempt to draft a law namely Domestic workers Welfare and Social Security Act, 2010, with the intention to get it passed by the Parliament so that these unrecognised and discriminated people could have an identity, and are given more or less the same benefits and amenities as are available to labour in the organised sector. On the similar ground, two bills were introduced in Lok Sabha, namely the Domestic Workers (Decent Working Conditions) Bill, 2015 and the Domestic Workers (Regulation of Work and Social Security) Bill, 2017 which aims at providing decent working conditions for the domestic workers and provide for social security to the domestic workers respectively.

Even after existence of acts like Minimum Wages Act, 1948, Workman’s Compensation Act, 1923, Equal Remuneration Act, 1976, Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972, and Employees Provident Fund Act, 1952; domestic workers have not been included in the said legislations. In order to include these workers under these labour laws, the definitions of workers will have to be amended.[14]

From the above stated discussion, it would be safe to say that people get into domestic work, not by choice but only by compulsion. Such situation only arises when one is out of employment options and domestic work is the only ray of hope for such person to meet his basic needs like food, water, shelter, medical facilities. Not only these workers are unskilled, illiterate and poor, but also coming from backward areas and marginalised communities. It’s not like they get the taste of paradise with such work, instead they are unregulated which forces them to accept lower wages and hence are undervalued.

On a comprehensive assessment of the laws, directly or indirectly, related to domestic workers it can be safely stated that only a central law would be able to meet the requirements (like the amount of fund allocation, the awareness schemes, and absence of territorial jurisdiction barriers, etc.) of regulating domestic workers

V.  Conclusion

Many years have passed by since the introduction of the first Bill for domestic workers (in the year 1959). It is sad that even now we have not been able to enact a robust law making provision for better terms of employment and conditions of service of domestic workers who constitute a large vulnerable and unfortunate section of the society. Many of them don’t even know that there is movement going on for some time to get them basic rights under a legislation, which will give the right to organise, collective bargain and provide for various better service conditions. This movement has received impetus even from ILO which has adopted a specific convention no. 189 for this purpose and the same needs to be ratified by the member countries. It is sad that in spite of these laudable steps being taken internationally, children continue to be employed in this hazardous employment because they are needy, gullible, illiterate and unskilled just like their parents. This situation creates a vicious cycle. This has to be realised by the law makers and this vicious cycle needs to be broken so that the next generation can be taken care of and ensured better rights and working conditions. The need for statutory rights for domestic workers was never felt more than in the aftermath of Covid 19 pandemonium situation.

[1]. National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector, “Report on Conditions of Work and Promotion of Livelihoods in the Unorganised Sector” (August, 2007).
[2]. International Labour Organization (ILO), Convention Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers (No.189), 2011, art. 1.
[3]. 68th Round, NSSO Employment – Unemployment Survey, (2011 – 2012).             
[4]. “The State of Domestic Workers in India”, National Domestic Workers Movement, available at Source (last visited on – 1/09/20)
[5]. “Domestic Workers Now Covered Under Health Insurance Scheme”, THE HINDU (June 24, 2016), available at Source (Last visited on – 31/08/20)
[6]. Ibid.
[7]. RSBY Committee Final Draft Report, Source (last visited on – 1/09/2020)
[8]. Shramjeevi Mahila Samiti v. State of NCT of Delhi, SLP (Crl.) No. 150 of 2012, order dated 15-05-2018 (SC).
[9]. Ibid.
[10]. 2013 SCC OnLine Jhar 1504
[11]. Press Information Bureau, “National Policy on Domestic Workers”, Ministry of Labour & Employment, 07 Jan. 2019, available at Source (last visited on 31/08/20).
[12]. “Remove anomalies in child labour law, says Save the Children”, Save the Children, 11 Oct. 2020, available at Source , (last visited on 31/08/20).
[13]. Child Welfare Committee v. Govt. of NCT of Delhi, W.P. (C) No. 6830 of 2007, Decided on – 03-09-2008 (Delhi High Court)
[14]. SEWA. 2014. Domestic Workers’ Laws and Legal Issues in India. WIEGO Law and Informality Resources. Cambridge, MA, USA: WIEGO. Source (last visited on – 1/09/2020).

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