The government has formulated the Domestic Workers Protection and Welfare Policy 2015 with a view to curbing domestic child labour as well as the repression of housemaids. However, a legal vacuum still exists for the millions of domestic workers in Bangladesh as the policy is yet to be implemented due to lack of publicity, monitoring, counselling, and proper practice. That is why civil society and other non-government organisations are now pressing the government to formulate a law in the light of the Domestic Workers Protection and Welfare Policy 2015. Considering the importance of the demand, Bangla Tribune hosted a seminar, titled “Grihokormi Shishur Odhikar Prothishthay Grihokormi Surokkha O Kolyannitir Aloke Ain Pronoyonn,” in its office in Dhaka on September 24. At the seminar, a pool of experts and academics also stressed on a law, but they emphasised more on the change in mindset to stop all forms of child labour as well as eliminate the repression of domestic workers. Here we briefly present what the discussants said.
Only the formulation of a law cannot be the solution
Muzibul Haque Chunnu,
Ministry of Labour and Employment
We have formulated the Domestic Workers Protection and Welfare Policy 2015 after working on it for several years. Now, you are demanding a law.
The government has plans to formulate a law, if necessary. But only the formulation of a law cannot be the solution.
Sometimes it makes me frustrated knowing that the upper-class and educated people in society are repressing the domestic workers.
If they have that attitude, who are we going to formulate the law for?
The educated people know that there is a labour law in the country. Do they follow it?
That is why I am saying merely formulating a law is not the solution. It is urgent that we change our mindsets toward domestic workers to establish their rights and stop all forms of child labour.
You have nothing to worry about. We will formulate the law. Actually we are in the middle of the process in this regard, as we have all sat down for the discussion; it is a part of formulating the law.
Apart from formulating the law, we also have to think about protecting the children engaged in domestic labour. My ministry has already prepared a project of Tk800 crore in aims of ensuring education for child labourers as well as counselling their parents against child labour. It is now at the Planning Ministry and might be approved by next year.
We are conducting a survey to identify the exact number of child workers involved in hazardous jobs. After completing the survey, we will take swift action to eliminate hazardous child labour.
Insha’allah, there will be no hazardous child labour by 2021 and all forms of child labour by 2025.
If a law is enacted, people will benefit more
Md Nazrul Islam,
National Human Rights Commission
When the government formulated the Domestic Workers Protection and Welfare Policy 2015, everyone welcomed the policy and the people are now benefitting from it. If the law is adopted in this regard, the people will benefit more. For instance, the government had enacted the Maintenance of the Parents Act in 2013, which everyone had greatly welcomed and the people have been benefitting from the law.
In most homes, there is no specific living space for housemaids. Though a trend of constructing servants’ quarters in some areas has developed recently, there are no proper living facilities which may seem to them like graves. That is why a minimum standard for servants’ living space needs to be fixed. The government can start the process by building servants’ quarters in different government housing projects, a move that others will follow afterward. Birth registration for all children, including street children, is a must. It is a human and innate right of children, which is not being implemented properly. Government and non-government organisations have to work together in this regard.
Coordination among stakeholders needed to curb repression
Dr Abul Hossain,
Multi-Sectoral Programme on Violence against Women under Ministry of Women and Children Affairs
We are here to talk about the formulation of the Domestic Workers’ Protection and Welfare Law. But, the process of formulating a law takes quite a long time. We already have a policy guideline for domestic workers. But I have observed that there is a lack of coordination among the stakeholders in working to stop the repression of domestic workers and child labourers.
The children are being repressed at homes. When we took them to the court for lodging a case, they agreed with us without any hesitation. But their parents’ did not come with us on some days and forced their children to say in the court that nothing had happened to them. Thus, the children are not getting justice and the oppressors are being encouraged.
The children and their guardians have to be brought under counselling to help them understand the impact of child labour by making them aware of the rights of housemaids. That is why I think we need to set up an “action plan” and the stakeholders have to understand their respective roles.
So, the execution of a coordinated work plan can be the alternative to formulating the law.
Standard wage and working hours must be fixed
Dr Md Abu Eusuf,
Department of Development Studies,
University of Dhaka
There must be a minimum wage for housemaids according to their age and experience. However, many of us become extra calculative when it comes to the wage of our domestic helps. We have been accustomed to enjoying cheap labour and do not want to give the housemaids the remuneration they deserve.
I think one would not work as much as a housemaid does. In the absence of a domestic help for a week, an employer would realise the pain that a housemaid experiences if he or she works for the time period. The employer would also feel how much facility he or she enjoys the in presence of a house help.
So, from our own homes, we have to start paying a fixed monthly wage to housemaids and help establish the practice among our neighbours.
The government, NGOs and the media have to create awareness among the masses in order to ensure the rights of domestic helps. The female employers have to be given counselling about housemaid rights, as they mainly deal with servants.
I also request the government, through the minister who is present here, to form a Child Directorate with a view to protect the child labourers, especially the domestic help.
Strict monitoring can eliminate repression
Chandan Z Gomes,
Programme Development and Quality Assurance,
World Vision Bangladesh
Formation of a central monitoring cell at the Labour Ministry and local monitoring cells at the Dhaka city corporations and district and upazila levels have been mentioned in the Domestic Workers Protection and Welfare Policy 2015. The cell needs to create a cooperative relationship between house owners and housemaids and employees and encourage them to apply these guidelines in their homes.
Most domestic workers come to the cities from villages. If the union parishads register the names and details of the people who come to the cities as domestic workers, the monitoring process can be stricter.
If you look at our garments industry, there is no child labour there. If we can make the house owners or the housing society management committee leaders understand the rights of domestic workers and make them agree to enforcing a ban on child labour in their neighbourhoods, I think it would help protect children’s rights.
Moreover, there is a need for a full-fledged law to protect housemaids. You can understand the importance, if you look into the scenario before and after the formulation of the Child Marriage Restraint Act.
Housemaids should be appointed in black and white
Atiqua Binte Baqui,
Japanese international NGO Shapla Neer
According to the Domestic Workers Protection and Welfare Policy 2015, domestic workers are supposed to be appointed through a written contract.
However, most employers are not interested in the process. We at Shapla Neer, want to execute the regulation, but when we fail, we try to ensure an oral contract at least.
After that, we regularly monitor the salary and other facilities of the domestic helps. If there is a law to protect the domestic workers’ rights, a process of formal appointment can be ensured,” she said.
It is very important to raise awareness of the steps taken to curb the repression of the workers. You may have taken note of the recent court verdict in a child subjugation case of Aduri. The case created much awareness among the public against repression. This was possible due to the publicity generated.
If the Domestic Workers Protection and Welfare Law is enacted and executed properly, then we can popularise the law with the help of the media, and through posters, leaflets and booklets.
I believe the law would be welcome by everyone and the rights of domestic workers as well as of the children would be protected through this law.
Law needed for SDG implementation
Md Akram Hossain,
Centre for Services and Information on Disability
As per its Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target, Bangladesh has to eliminate child labour from the country by 2025. In this regard, we have undertaken a five-year work plan. However, this work plan is insufficient to reduce child labour. To achieve the goal, a law is needed. If the law is enacted, then we can talk about executing it. If this law is enacted and executed, then it would be possible to eliminate child labour by 2025.
To cut down on child labour, the union parishad chairmen could also take some steps. Chairmen can imply terms and conditions while distributing vulnerable group feeding (VGF) cards and vulnerable group development (VGD) cards to people in order to send the card receivers’ children to school and not involve them in work. If these conditions are not met, then the cards shall be cancelled.
If the government agrees to formulate a law to protect domestic workers’ rights, and put a stop to child labour, then we, the civil society, can help them by providing a draft. This draft would incorporate the rules and articles of the law, as well as the committees and monitoring cells.
Law urgently needed
Khandaker Jahurul Alam,
Centre for Services and Information on Disability
Usually joint families and wealthier families in the cities keep domestic workers. According to the existing labour law, there can be no workers below the age of 14. The government has also formulated a policy guideline in 2015 to protect domestic workers’ rights.
The policy incorporated significant issues including the issues of receiving fair wages, minimum age of employment, conducive working conditions, fixed working hours, getting registered and having identity cards, contract of employment, maternity leave, healthcare support and compensation for accidents caused by doing hazardous work, and legal actions against physical or verbal abuse and sexual harassment. The policy also entitles domestic workers to take time off for rest and relaxation.
But, despite the law and policies, domestic workers are being repressed every day. That is why we want a law as soon as possible to protect domestic workers’ rights.
All photos were taken by Sazzad Hossain