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…After a decade of wait ending domestic workers woes

FAIZAN ALI WARRAICH

LAHORE: The International Labour Organization (ILO) recognized the rights of domestic workers or essential service providers in 2011 but even after 10 years, the fight still goes on for domestic workers of Asian countries including Pakistan.

In Pakistan, the provincial assembly of the largest province by population Punjab passed ‘The Punjab Domestic Workers Act 2019’. The incumbent government of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) led Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar paved the way to provide due rights to service providers in Punjab. It is relevant to note that Punjab is the only province among all four provinces, which has passed such legislation for domestic workers. This was the first step towards rights provision but there is plenty of work to do especially in the post-pandemic era.

According to a new International Labour Organization (ILO) report, these service providers have been excluded from the national labour laws and high levels of informality continue to take a heavy toll on the working conditions of domestic workers in the Asia and the Pacific region and in Pakistan there are about 8.5 million domestic workers. 55% of these are women.

As per the statistics, 10 years after the adoption of the Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 the majority (61.5 per cent) of domestic workers in Asia and the Pacific are fully excluded from coverage under national labour laws while 84.3 percent remain in informal employment. There are some 38.3 million domestic workers over the age of 15 employed in Asia and the Pacific of whom 78.4 percent are women. The region is also the largest employer of male domestic workers, accounting for 46.1 percent of male domestic workers worldwide. The Asia and the Pacific region employs 38.3 million domestic workers or 50.6 percent of domestic workers worldwide and remains the world’s largest employer of domestic workers.

To name a few countries, China accounts for a large portion of the total (22 million) while several other countries also make substantial contributions, including India (4.8 million), the Philippines (2 million), Bangladesh (1.5 million) and Indonesia (1.2 million).

Chihoko Asada Miyakawa, Assistant ILO Director General and Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, said: “There is an urgent need to formalize domestic work in the Asia Pacific, starting with the inclusion of domestic work in labour and social security laws, to ensure that these vital workers are offered the protection and respect they deserve.”

The Philippines is the only country in Asia and the Pacific to have ratified the Domestic Workers Convention ten years on from its adoption.

ILO’s data indicated majority of domestic workers in the region do not have any ‘legal limits’ on their working time (71 per cent), nor any legal entitlement to weekly rest (64 per cent) under current labour laws and earning some of the lowest wages in the labour market, especially when they are informal.

In Pakistan, Punjab authorities gave legal cover and state assistance like the domestic worker shall be addressed as “domestic worker”, not “servant”, as per the 2019 Act. But the important rules, contributions, framework and benefits are yet to be determined.

Domestic work in the Asia and the Pacific region is performed largely by women (78.4 per cent) however, the region is also the largest employer of male domestic workers, accounting for 46.1 percent of male domestic workers across the world.

In Asia and the Pacific, 61.5 percent of domestic workers remain fully excluded from labour law. Only 19 percent of domestic workers in the region have the same entitlements to paid annual leave as other workers. Only 11 percent of domestic workers in the region enjoy the minimum wage to the same extent as other workers.

Since the adoption of the Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189), domestic workers have gained legal protection in many countries. For too many domestic workers, however, decent work has not yet become a reality. A staggering eight out of every ten domestic workers are informally employed and thus lack effective labour and social protectionsAccording to ILO Convention No. 189, domestic worker defined as the one who “performed in or for a household or households, within an employment relationship and on an occupational basis. While domestic workers typically undertake cleaning and cooking and care for children, the elderly and the disabled, as well as gardening, driving and guarding private households, the reality is that their tasks vary across countries and over time. Given this heterogeneity of tasks, the defining characteristic of domestic work was determined to be the workplace; that is, the household.”

In Pakistan, domestic workers are entitled to labour rights under the Punjab DWs Act 2019 but a lot of steps need to be taken to ensure that their rights are delivered include access to formalization as a means to make decent work a reality for domestic workers. The Act remained largely unenforced and seemed to be only on papers.

Keeping in view the ground situation, experts said that all domestic workers should be provided minimum wages and a decent working time along with social security including maternity and cash benefits.

In Punjab, Punjab Employees Social Security Institution (PESSI), an autonomous body under the administrative control of Labour & Human Resource department, has launched an android application for the provision of health facilities to the workers and their dependents is covered under the Provincial Social Security Laws.

The department has been campaigning with activists to register as many as female domestic workers so they could be provided with social security cards. The SSC will provide occupational safety and health to DWs.

As per the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics PBS’s 2015 Standard Classification of Occupations (PSCO), DWs fit into two main categories, service workers and in elementary occupations.  Within these broad divisions, there are sub-categories such as “domestic housekeepers,” and “domestic cleaners and helpers” which refer more specifically to the sort of services provided by DWs.  Using these occupational codes as recorded in the Labor Force Survey 2017-18, the Punjab Department of Labor (DOL) estimates the number of domestic workers in the province at about 674,000 – 85 percent of whom are women.

Experts stressed for inclusive voices and representation of domestic workers in formulating any policies related to domestic workers. Punjab authorities needed to pace up efforts as they have already taken the first step in the form of important legislation from the provincial assembly. The domestic workers need social security protection just like other labourers.

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