Plight of domestic help: Few rights, little freedom and meagre payAn estimated 200,000 people, mostly women, are employed as domestic workers in private households across the country, according to reports prepared by various organisations. And most of them share similar plight: few rights, little freedom and frequent abuse.
An estimated 200,000 people, mostly women, are employed as domestic workers in private households across the country, according to reports prepared by various organisations. And most of them share similar plight: few rights, little freedom and frequent abuse.
Despite the amendment to the Labour Act recognising domestic work as decent work, precious little has been done to ensure that domestic help are paid decently, given rest and protected from abuse.
The new Act, which is yet to be approved, though has laid down some provisions for domestic workers, it is silent on their pay; hence as a workforce they continue to remain vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
How much a domestic help is paid is solely the discretion of the employer as of now. A domestic worker in Nepal usually get between Rs 200 and Rs 5,000 a month.
“The Act leaves workers at the mercy of employers when it comes to pay,” says Sonu Danuwar, general secretary of Trade Union Workers of Nepal.
Clause 88 (a) of the Act says: “… the government can set a separate minimum wage for domestic workers, which clearly treats the job of domestic help as different from the rest of the job.” The same clause counts food and education allowances within monthly wage. Human rights campaigners and non-governmental sectors working in the field of domestic labour have long been lobbying for the ratification of the International Labour Organisation (ILO)’s C189 Convention, which ensures minimum wage, fixed working hour and weekly day off as basic requirements to employ domestic workers. The ILO convention also gives domestic workers the same legal protection afforded to other workers.
But government officials say the amendment to the Act was the best the government could do when it comes to domestic workers.
It does not seem the government will ratify the ILO convention anytime soon on the premise that the “government is yet to domesticate the conventions it has already ratified”.
“We have to find ways for the amended laws to function in the best interest of domestic workers,” says Surya Prasad Shrestha, joint secretary at the Ministry of Labour. “Domestic work is different from other works, which does not have fixed working hour.”
With the amended law, the country has for the first time acknowledged domestic work as payable work, but silence on domestic help’s pay does not help the workforce. Danuwar of Trade Union Workers of Nepal says acknowledging domestic work as decent work could encourage women to take up jobs at home instead of going for risky foreign employment.