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.