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PAID DOMESTIC WORK AN ECONOMIC ACTIVITY OR NOT

INTRODUCTION 

Paid domestic work refers to work performed by individuals in private households, such as cleaning, cooking, and childcare, for which they receive monetary compensation.[1] While the nature of domestic work may differ from other types of employment, it is widely recognised as an economic activity that contributes to the functioning of households, communities, and economies. However, domestic workers must be more valued, paid, and often invisible in legal and policy frameworks despite their economic importance.

REASON FOR THIS UNDERVALUATION OF DOMESTIC WORK

Undervaluation of domestic work can be attributed to gender biases and cultural perceptions that have long devalued work primarily done by women. Domestic work’s private nature makes tracking harder, resulting in lower wages, fewer benefits, and inadequate legal protections. Informal employment arrangements also limit access to social benefits such as health insurance, pensions, and workers’ compensation, further exacerbating the challenges faced by domestic workers.[2]

IS IT ACKNOWLEDGED AS AN ECONOMIC ACTIVITY? 

Despite its clear economic contribution, paid domestic work is only sometimes acknowledged as a formal economic activity. It has traditionally been undervalued and considered as “women’s work” or not a “real job.” Additionally, domestic work often occurs in private households, making it less visible and more complicated to track than other types of employment[3]. This lack of visibility and recognition can result in lower pay, fewer benefits, and limited legal protections for domestic workers. However, in recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the importance of domestic work as an economic activity, and efforts are being made to address the systemic issues of Undervaluation and under-protection of domestic workers.[4]

What can lead to the recognition of paid domestic work as an economic activity? Recognising paid domestic work as an economic activity requires a multifaceted approach that tackles structural and cultural factors. Governments can enact laws and regulations that apply to domestic workers, such as minimum wage laws, overtime pay, and access to benefits like health insurance. Governments can also provide incentives for employers to formalise domestic work arrangements, such as tax credits or subsidies. Improving enforcement mechanisms will ensure that domestic workers receive fair compensation and working conditions, and empowering them to advocate for their rights and negotiate better pay and working conditions is also vital.

WHAT IS THE REASON BEHIND THIS PERSISTING DICHOTOMY?

The persisting dichotomy in acknowledging paid domestic work as an economic activity is due to several factors[5], including:

Historical and cultural factors: Domestic work has been traditionally viewed as women’s work and, therefore, not seen as a “real” job. This perception is often rooted in gender biases and stereotypes that have historically devalued work traditionally performed by women.

Private nature of the work: Domestic work occurs in private households, making it less visible and more challenging to track than other types of employment. This lack of visibility can result in lower pay, fewer benefits, and limited legal protections for domestic workers.

Power dynamics: The employer-employee relationship in domestic work is often unequal, with the employer holding more power than the worker. This power imbalance can make it challenging for domestic workers to advocate for their rights and negotiate better pay and working conditions.

Intersectional discrimination: Domestic workers often belong to marginalised communities based on race, ethnicity, immigration status, or social class. This intersectional discrimination can further compound the challenges faced by domestic workers in accessing formal employment protections and recognition.

Overall, the persisting dichotomy in acknowledging paid domestic work as an economic activity result from complex and intersecting factors, including societal attitudes, power dynamics, and systemic barriers to formalisation and protection.

HOW DO WE MAKE DOMESTIC WORKERS VISIBLE IN THE LEGAL SPACE?

Making domestic workers visible in the legal space involves several strategies[6], including:

Creating specific laws and regulations: Governments can make laws and regulations that specifically apply to domestic workers, such as minimum wage laws, overtime pay, and access to benefits like health insurance. These laws can formalise domestic work and provide legal protections for workers.

Improving enforcement mechanisms: Governments can strengthen enforcement mechanisms to ensure domestic workers receive fair compensation and working conditions. This can involve increasing resources for labour inspectors and providing domestic workers with access to legal aid.

Empowering domestic workers: Domestic workers need to be assigned to advocate for their rights and negotiate better pay and working conditions. This can involve training on labour rights and organising efforts to help them access legal protections.

Encouraging formalisation: Formalising domestic work can make it more visible and give workers access to social protections, such as health insurance and pensions. Governments can incentivise employers to formalise domestic work arrangements, such as tax credits or subsidies.

Addressing social attitudes: Addressing the social attitudes that undervalue domestic work can help to make it more visible in the legal space. This can involve campaigns to raise awareness about the importance of domestic work and its economic contributions and initiatives to challenge gender stereotypes and promote a more equitable division of labour in households.

LEGAL FRAMEWORKS FOR PAID DOMESTIC WORK

Despite its economic importance, domestic work is often undervalued and underpaid, and domestic workers face multiple forms of discrimination and exploitation. Many domestic workers are not protected by labour laws and do not have access to social protections, such as minimum wages, working hours, overtime pay, and rest periods. They may also face discrimination based on their race, ethnicity, gender, or immigration status.[7]

In India, the legal frameworks for paid domestic work are spread across various laws, regulations, and policies. The most significant provisions can be found in the Minimum Wages Act of 1948, the Payment of Wages Act of 1936, and domestic workers act 2008. Additionally, the Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act of 2008 provides for the welfare of unorganised workers, including domestic workers.

The Minimum Wages Act of 1948[8] sets minimum wage rates for different categories of workers, including domestic workers. However, the Act does not apply to domestic workers who are employed in households with less than ten workers. This exemption leaves a vast number of domestic workers vulnerable to low wages and exploitation.

The Payment of Wages Act of 1936[9] regulates the payment of wages to employees in India. The Act mandates that wages must be paid in legal tender, and employers cannot make deductions other than those authorised by law or the employee. The Act applies to domestic workers who earn less than Rs. 18,000 per month, but its enforcement is weak.

The “Domestic Workers (Registration, Social Security and Welfare) Act, 2008” in India gives states a framework within which to develop their own domestic worker welfare and protection legislation. By making registration easier, creating welfare boards, and developing welfare plans, this legislation seeks to protect the social security and welfare of domestic workers by acknowledging their importance. Additionally, it advocates for the payment of minimum wages, governing working conditions, and safeguards against exploitation and abuse. The states have the freedom to develop their own legislation based on the main act, hence it is significant to note that how this act is implemented may differ among states. In order to comprehend the rights and safeguards granted to domestic workers, it is thus necessary to reference the relevant state legislation.[10]

The Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act of 2008[11] provides for the welfare of unorganised workers, including domestic workers. The Act mandates the establishment of a National Social Security Board and State Social Security Boards to recommend social security schemes for unorganised workers. However, the Act does not provide for any specific schemes for domestic workers. Whereas

DOES THE LAW HAVE ANY ANSWER TO THEIR SOCIAL AND POLITICAL MARGINALISATION?

Yes, the law can play a critical role in addressing domestic workers’ social and political marginalisation. The law can address domestic workers’ social and political marginalisation by providing legal recognition, enforcing fair compensation and working conditions, prohibiting discrimination, recognising the right to organise and bargain collectively, and ensuring access to justice[12]. Implementation and enforcement of these laws require political will and resources to challenge structural inequalities. Legal recognition can establish decent working conditions and social protections, such as health insurance and pensions. Enforcement mechanisms, like labour inspectors and legal aid, can help workers report abuses. Non-discrimination laws can prohibit discrimination based on race, ethnicity, gender, and immigration status. Collective bargaining laws protect workers who organise and promote fair working conditions. Access to justice laws ensures legal remedies for rights violations.

CONCLUSION 

In conclusion, paid domestic work is an economic activity that generates income for workers and contributes to the economy. However, domestic workers’ lack of legal recognition and protection perpetuates their social and political marginalisation. The law can address this issue by providing legal recognition, enforcement mechanisms, non-discrimination provisions, collective bargaining rights, and access to justice. Effective implementation and enforcement of these laws require political will and a commitment to challenging the structural inequalities that marginalise domestic workers.

Making domestic workers visible in the legal space requires a multi-pronged approach that addresses structural and cultural factors and empowers workers to advocate for their rights.[13]

Author(s) Name: Shambhavi Shahi (Symbiosis Law School, Noida)

Reference(s):

[1] ‘Who Are Domestic Workers (Domestic Workers)’ (Who are domestic workers (Domestic workers)) accessed 20 May 2023.

[2] Shailja Agarwal UA, “Social Security for Domestic Workers in India” (Manupatra 2018) <http://docs.manupatra.in/newsline/articles/Upload/33C4D30A-4721-4464-9DF2-5DFA4A769B80.pdf> accessed May 8, 2023.

[3] OECD. “Unpaid Care Work: The Missing Link in the Analysis of Gender Gaps in Labour Outcomes.” OECD Development Centre, no date. Available at: https://www.oecd.org/dev/development-gender/Unpaid_care_work.pdf  (Accessed May 3, 2023).

[4] Closing the gender pay gap: A review of the issues, policy mechanisms … Accessed June 4, 2023. https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—dgreports/—gender/documents/publication/wcms_540889.pdf.  

[5] Melinda Giovengo, ‘Paid Domestic Work as an Economic Activity: Acknowledging the Dichotomy’ (2019) 8(1) Feminist Economics 70.

[6] International Labour Organization. “Global Wage Report 2010/11: Wage Policies in Times of Crisis.” International Labour Office, Geneva, 2010.

[7] Shailja Agarwal UA, “Social Security for Domestic Workers in India” (Manupatra 2018) <http://docs.manupatra.in/newsline/articles/Upload/33C4D30A-4721-4464-9DF2-5DFA4A769B80.pdf> accessed May 8, 2023.

[8]“Minimum Wages Act, 1948 – Clc.gov.in” https://clc.gov.in/clc/sites/default/files/MinimumWagesact.pdf accessed May 8, 2023.

[9]“The Payment of Wages Act, 1936 – Mahaonline” <https://maitri.mahaonline.gov.in/pdf/payment-of-wages act-1936.pdf> accessed May 8, 2023.

[10] “National Policy for Domestic Workers.” Press Information Bureau. Accessed June 4, 2023. https://pib.gov.in/PressReleasePage.aspx?PRID=1564261.  

[11] “Unorganized Worker Ministry of Labour & Employment: Government of India” (Unorganized Worker ministry of Labour & Employment Government of India) <https://labour.gov.in/unorganized-workers> accessed May 8, 2023.

[12] International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention No. 189, Decent Work for Domestic Workers, 2011.

[13] Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189), General Conference of the International Labour Organization.