Millions of maids working in middle class Indian homes are part of up an informal and “invisible” workforce where they are abused and exploited due to a lack of legislation to protect them, the International Labour Organization (ILO) said on Wednesday.
Economic reforms that began in the early 1990s have transformed the lifestyles of many Indian families, and as people get wealthier and more women go to work, there has been a voracious demand for domestic workers in urban households.
The number of maids has surged by close to 70 percent from 2001 to 2010, says the ILO, adding that there are now an estimated 10 million maids and nannies in the country.
“They are such a big informal sector in India, but they are invisible and unprotected,” Tine Staermose, the ILO’s director for South Asia, told a news conference.
“Social justice is about basic fundamental rights of all workers. We need to turn around the mindset and look at domestic workers as human beings with dignity, with a life like our own, with the same problems and challenges.”
Activists and trade unionists say despite the surge in women migrating from impoverished villages in states such as Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh to take up jobs in cities like Delhi and Mumbai, there are few laws in place recognising their rights.
Unlike other workers, maid and nannies often do not have mutually agreed contracts which provide a minimum wage, working hours or holidays. They are also deprived of social benefits such as access to healthcare and pensions.
The lack of legislation and regulation of the domestic labour sector has led to exploitation, not just by employers but also by traffickers working for placement agencies that have mushroomed to service the demand for household help.
The media is full of reports of minors and women lured from their villages by traffickers who promise of a good life as maids in cities. However, in the urban homes where they are taken to work, they often face mental, physical and sexual abuse.