Deep In Debt, Domestic Helps In Tamil Nadu Demand Living Wages

Cheering loudly as fellow domestic helps narrated experiences of abuse, low wages and ridicule at a convention organised by labour rights groups, Ms Murugesan, 47, said her wages had increased by just 3,000 rupees in the last decade.

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Deep In Debt, Domestic Helps In Tamil Nadu Demand Living Wages

Around 50 million domestic workers in India, mostly women, are regularly exploited (Representational)

Chennai:  Muthukani Murugesan faked illness to take a day off work on Wednesday and joined hundreds of fellow domestic helps protesting in Tamil Nadu for a living wage and better benefits.

Cheering loudly as fellow domestic helps narrated experiences of abuse, low wages and ridicule at a convention organised by labour rights groups, Ms Murugesan, 47, said her wages had increased by just 3,000 rupees in the last decade.

"It's almost laughable," said Ms Murugesan, who told her employer that she was vomiting so she could attend the meeting in Chennai.

"They don't like me taking days off. But the bigger problem is that most of us here have debts to pay off. These are loans we were forced to take - for weddings and schooling - because we don't earn enough," she said.

Even though demand for domestic workers is high, work conditions and rewards remain patchy at best, renewing demands for weekly days off, maternity benefits and a pension, as well as wages that keep pace with inflation.

"Domestic work is not counted as real work in our social fabric," said Deepa Ebenezer, a research scholar working on the changing nature of domestic work at the Madras Institute of Development Studies.

"It is expected of women and often described as work done for the love of the home. And so the work has no value and this directly impacts the wages of maids," she adds.

There are an estimated 50 million domestic workers in India, most of them women, who are regularly exploited in the absence of any legal protection such as the National Policy for Domestic Workers, which is awaiting cabinet approval, activists say.

Low wages, with annual increments as low as Rs 100, compel women to take loans and the repayment cycle makes it impossible for them to quit exploitative jobs, campaigners say.

"Most of our members are ageing quickly but continue to work because of debts," said Josephine Valaramathi of the National Domestic Workers Movement, and added, "We are demanding an increase in pension, which is a measly 1,000 rupees today. Women are paying off loans of up to 500,000 rupees."

The central government has recently drafted a policy to give domestic workers the right to register themselves as employees, guarantees a minimum wage, protection from abuse, and access to health insurance, maternity benefits and pension, as well as an opportunity to add skills.

There is no time frame for when the proposed policy will come into effect.
© Thomson Reuters 2017


(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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