Another piece of pro-worker legislation…

I just learned from an article in EPW that Maharashtra recently enacted the first legislation in the country to protect domestic workers, the Maharashtra Domestic Workers Welfare Board Act 2008.

The Act does a lot of the same things that legislation currently does for other groups of informal sector workers like construction workers. Workers are to be registered under the Act. Tripartite boards with representation from workers, employers and the government will be constituted.  Welfare boards are to be set up in each district which will “provide financial assistance, maternity benefits, health insurance, and educational aid for children of domestic workers.”

However, EPW points out that from the outset, the Act has a number of problems. No money has been committed for the welfare board yet. Workers are asked to register but not employers. Details of the welfare schemes and how workers will contribute to the boards has not been worked out.

I am happy that attention is finally being paid to domestic workers, whose safety and financial security is particularly difficult to protect among groups of informal sector workers. But is this the best way to do it? I am not so sure about that. Similar legislation enacted for construction workers has faced many problems in implementation. And this for a group of informal sector workers who are relatively well organized and have proven themselves capable of making demands on the government! I think we need to look very hard at the results of prior pro-worker legislation and learn from our mistakes.

  1. Binit Rath said:

    It’s really an interesting post. The act is surely an welcome development ,at least on paper there is some thing good happening for domestic worker. I am not sure about the details, but I think the onus of registration should be on the employer rather than the worker. In India most of the time the intended beneficiary are unaware of the provisions, so the act would only be helpful if there awareness on part of workers. But imagine a situation where a workers have been personally brought from states like Bihar and Orissa and the only people he/she knows in the city his employer. So I am not sure if the employer would encourage their domestic help to register, considering the extra restriction it would put on them. So the law should make it mandatory for the employers to get their workers registered rather than expecting domestic workers to register on their own. inserting provisions like employing unregistered workers as illegal on part of employers. Also all the contributions required should be the responsibility of the employer rather than the worker.

  2. nraman said:

    Binit, I totally agree with you. But how would that work in practice? An employee, in theory, has an incentive to register as a domestic worker. But an employer does not, particularly in situations when employees change regularly as they do in many households that I have seen. Would the ordinary householder go trekking to the domestic worker registration office every time that their household help changed? Especially without any penalities, I seriously doubt it. Honestly, my opinion is that all these sectoral schemes should just be scrapped in favor of some sort of universal social security scheme for all residents who want it. Anybody who doesn’t want it (ie who can afford better than government insurance and pension plans and who don’t need unemployment payments of the tiny amounts that the government would provide) will not go for it, and for the rest, it would provide the safety that they are currently missing.Thanks so much for reading and commenting, i hope you continue to do both! –Nithya

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