People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 10

March 09, 2014




Organising the Unorganised


Archana Prasad


THE piece rated home based workers and part time domestic workers constitute some of the most vulnerable sections of the working class in the city of Delhi. As per the NSSO survey of 2009-10, there are at least six lakh home based workers working in different industries in the city. The count of domestic workers in Delhi is, however, not exactly known. The ILO estimated that there are about 90 million domestic workers in the country, but the number of part time domestic workers in the city is yet to be established. According to an estimate by an independent trade union, there are around 78 lakh domestic workers in Delhi, 90 per cent of which are women.




Both these sections --- home based workers and domestic workers --- have remained largely invisible in the labour policy and also in the mainstream trade unionism within the city. This is largely because these women work inside the homes and are not accessible to trade unions in any obvious way. Hence all forms of organisation require that women’s movements break social barriers, bring out these women and help them to fight for their rights. In this sense, the organisation of these women workers requires the women’s movement to take up the working class issues.


An effort in this direction has been made by the Delhi state committee of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) over the last five years, when the Delhi AIDWA first started organising the piece rated home based workers. After a brief survey and in a span of three years, the organisation has conducted several campaigns in order to press for their registration as ‘workers.’ Through its struggles it has also been able to get some recognition for home based workers as ‘artisans’ in the last two years.


In order to intensify this effort, the Delhi state committee of the All India Democratic Women’s Association held a daylong convention to demand the issuance of identity cards to the home based workers of the city. It gave some token identity cards to twenty home based workers and announced a registration campaign for these workers in the next two months. It would recognise and register the home based workers and then press for the recognition of such registration by the government. It released a charter of demands for these workers and the preliminary findings of the pilot survey that was done to understand the problems of domestic workers.


The convention was addressed by CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Brinda Karat, AIDWA’ national general secretary Jagmati Sangwan, and its vice presidents Sudha Sundaraman and Subhashini Ali. Around one thousand home based workers attended the programme and resolved to carry out their fight. Sehba Farooqui, general secretary of the Delhi state unit of AIDWA, announced that the Delhi AIDWA had already registered more than 3,000 home based workers and would intensify their campaign in the next three months. She also stated that the AAP government had announced to form a committee to look into the prospect of registering the home based workers, but the government fell before such a committee could be fully constituted. However, the notification for the formation of the committee is itself a significant political achievement which should be used by the movement to press the other future governments for the recognition of these workers. This recognition is the first step towards recognising the basic rights of these women workers.




The said convention also led to the initiation of a campaign for the rights of the part time domestic workers in the city. A charter of demands and the preliminary findings of an ongoing survey were released on this occasion. The survey of the conditions of work of the part time domestic workers has been organised in the form of a mass contact programme that will be carried out in the next two months and will end with a convention to organise these workers.


The results of the pilot survey of 828 workers show that these workers belong to the most disadvantaged social groups of the society. More than 65 per cent of the domestic workers surveyed belonged to the dalit, adivasi and minority social groups. Another alarming feature of part time domestic work is that more than two thirds of the women surveyed had started doing this work in the last ten years. One third of the workers had taken up part time domestic work in the last five years. This indicates that part time domestic work was being done as a response to the growing economic distress.


Another aspect of the survey concentrated on the conditions of work for the part time domestic workers. The average income as the monthly wage of the domestic workers surveyed in this sample is Rs 2,937.55 per month or Rs 17.30 per hour for any job performed by them. This is certainly much lesser than the current minimum wage of Rs 39 per hour or Rs 8,200 per month for the unskilled workers in Delhi.


What is even more striking is the fact that about 73.4 percent of the domestic workers surveyed did not even reach the level of this average income. Further, 62.27 per cent of the women do not earn the average hourly income as projected in the findings of the survey. It is clear that in order to earn the average monthly income a woman has to work at least six hours a day and in at least three houses every day. Another important feature that came out from the survey is the conclusion that those women who work harder get paid lesser for their work. Thus if a woman works for three to four hours a day, she makes an hourly income of about Rs 21; she makes Rs 13 per hour if she works for six to eight hours a day; but she makes an average income of Rs 10-12 a day if she works for nine to twelve hours a day. This shows that women have to work for longer hours to earn their current income which is much lower than the minimum wage.




The inhuman conditions and the lack of dignity in domestic work came out very clearly from this preliminary survey. About 65 per cent of the women reported that they were not allowed to use the bathroom in their employer’s house. As one of the women put it, “we can clean the dirt in their house, but they call us dirty if we want to use the toilets. Where should we go if we want to use the toilets? There is no jungle or covered space.” The statement sums up the feeling of most part time domestic workers.


Further, the drudgery of the work is seen from the fact that the women are not entitled to any rest or holidays. About 41 percent of the women said that they got no paid holidays while 11.02 percent of the women got only one monthly holiday whereas 35.83 percent got two holidays per month. Only 3.90 percent of the women got a weekly holiday. About 78 percent of the women got no paid holidays on festivals and about 82 per cent of the women reported that their employers cut their pay if they took leave. About 42 percent of the women had lost their jobs at one point or another because of leave during illness or for going home.


The fact that these women are completely out of the scope of government policy and legislation is evident from the fact that more that 65 percent of the women had no ration card and only 1.18 percent of the women had the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (National Health Insurance Scheme) card. This abysmal situation existed despite the fact that the task force on domestic workers had recommended a registration drive of domestic workers under the health insurance scheme. 


Given this situation, the AIDWA convention released a demands charter and decided to press for the demands of the part-time domestic workers. These demands include:


1) Identity cards for all part time domestic workers and their registration with the labour department in order to ensure their fundamental rights as workers;


2) Inclusion of domestic work in the schedule of minimum wages and an hourly wage of Rs 50 per hour along with dearness allowance;


3) Ensuring one common weekly holiday;


4) BPL and RSBY cards for all part time domestic workers;


5) Coverage of domestic workers under the Indira Awas Yojana and other schemes;


6) Constitution of a welfare board under the Unorganised Workers (Social Security) Act 2008 to ensure pension, provident fund, childcare and maternity benefits; and


7) The enactment of a comprehensive legislation to ensure these rights.


The convention called upon all the AIDWA units to prepare for a bigger convention of the part time domestic workers on the basis of this charter of demands within the next two months.


This initial experience of organising the home based workers and understanding the problems of the part time domestic workers has shown why it is necessary to have a joint front of the trade unions and women’s organisations. Such a front is essential to build up a comprehensive resistance to neo-liberal policies. The fight for the legitimate rights of home based and domestic workers has to be contextualised in a larger strategy. The said convention proved to be a step in this direction and ended with a resolve to further expand and intensify the struggles of these women workers.