Domestic workers ignored in Labour Law, Covid compensation

An informal working sector that includes around 2.5million people remains out of cognizance even around 50 years after the country achieved independence.

Domestic workers were among the worst hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, as many of them were heavily dependent on multiple jobs just to survive. When the contagious disease sliced away large portions of their income, most were forced to return to their native villages without even a poisha of compensation.

Rashida Begum, 38, from Mymensingh, returned to her in-laws’ native village from Dhaka as she lost work in three of four houses during the pandemic.

“My husband was injured in an accident, so I have to feed five people. The three houses provided four fifths of my monthly earnings,” she said. 

“When I lost those jobs, I was left with just Tk4,000 for the entire family; it is not possible to support them with this little amount. So, I have to return.”

While people from her neighbourhood who work in the garment and other sectors received cash support, domestic workers received nothing. 

“I feel sad when I think about how we left. We [domestic workers] work so that another woman can go to work or get support in her enormous work, but still the government does not recognize us when it comes to giving support,” Rashida added. 

Many other workers are in the same situation.

Human right activists have said a new law needs to be formulated for domestic workers as reports of violence and abuse against them are on the rise.

If a new law is not formulated, then the Labour Law 2006 should be amended to recognize domestic workers.

Bangladesh Shishu Adhikar Forum (BSAF) in collaboration with Educo Bangladesh organized a Dialogue with the Parliamentary Caucus on Child Rights (PCCR) on Saturday, where Supreme Court lawyer Abu Obaidur Rahman presented a draft law before Shamsul Haque Tuku, chairman of the Parliamentary Caucus.

Child rights activist Obaidur Rahman stressed the need to implement a new law and define light work in the Domestic Workers Protection and Welfare Policy 2015.

“No children under 14 should be allowed to become domestic workers until there is a proper definition of light work,” he said.

Chairman of PCCR Shamsul Haque Tuku assured that he would submit the draft and said he was hopeful that a law would be enacted after following the necessary process.

Domestic workers hit hard by Covid-19

According to the Bangladesh Labour Force Survey (2017), 1.3 million domestic workers worked in the country.

In 2011, the Domestic Workers Rights Network (DWRN) estimated that there were approximately 2 million domestic workers, of whom over 90% were females and children.

Nazma Yesmin, member secretary of DWRN, said the network estimated that there were over 2.5 million workers in the country by now. 

“The most unfortunate thing is that domestic workers make a significant contribution to the national economy, but they are unrecognized. This leaves them out of all sorts of social safety net programs,” she added.

She also lamented that domestic workers remained unprotected despite the frantic efforts of rights activists to have them provided with job-related security.

A joint study by the South Asian Network on Economic Modelling (SANEM) and Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF) found that unpaid and unaccounted domestic work comprised nearly 48% of the nation's GDP. If that were to be monetized, it would be 2.5-3 times higher than the income received from other services. 

According to a study by Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO) published in October 2020, the average monthly salary of domestic workers surveyed was around Tk5,000 per month for a 40-hour work week.

An ILO (2019) survey found that 68% of live-out domestic workers did not receive overtime benefits.

According to a recent assessment by DWRN and others published on May 21 this year, the minimum monthly salary for domestic workers is just Tk500, while the maximum is around Tk20,000.

The assessment also found that 70% of live-out workers earned Tk7,000-9,000 a month, while only 30% of live-in workers were in that range.

Around 55% of live-in workers earned less than Tk1,000 each month. As much as 30.7% of the domestic workers said they wished to change their profession because of poor salaries.

‘It is imperative to recognize domestic workers in the law’

Marzia Prova, program officer (advocacy and networking) at Amrai Pari, said a significant share of unpaid jobs, worth $20million, had been converted into national income by these domestic workers.

“Still, as they are not recognized, they went unattended during Covid,” she added.

Nazma Yesmin of DWRN said that there had been some technical recognition through the Domestic Workers Protection and Welfare Policy 2015, but this had no legal backing and only limited implementation.

They did not even get the onetime financial support (Tk2,500) from the government that was received by other laborers, she added, stressing the need to incorporate the workers into the Labour Law.

Educo Manager (Policy and Advocacy) Halima Akter said: “Policy is not mandatory to implement, but a law is. In order to protect women, girls and children who are domestic workers, a fresh law must be formulated.” 

She also pointed out that the Domestic Workers Protection and Welfare Policy did not define light work, which put many children in danger.

Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) recorded 405 incidents of violence against domestic workers from 2013 to October 2018. Among the victims, 257 were children aged under 18. 

As many as 187 domestic workers died during the period.

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