Thursday, 23 March, 2023

Ensure Safe Working, Environment for Home Helps

Z A M Khairuzzaman

It is a usual practice on the part of the government to announce certain policies for running the state. Based upon the policies, laws are enacted. What we observe with deep distress that despite the announcement of good policies, no effective steps are taken for their implementation. Names of the National Education Policy–2010, the National Women’s Policy–2009 or the Domestic Workers’ Protection and Welfare Policy–2015 can be mentioned in this regard. Elaborate discussions and criticisms were made centring the first two policies, but the third one remains behind the scene. In a study conducted by the Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS), it has been revealed that 99 per cent of domestic workers and 66 per cent of their employers are not at all aware about the Domestic Workers’ Protection and Welfare Policy. On the other hand, 67 per cent of domestic workers suffer from mental torture inflicted upon them by their employers in city households. Although 91 per cent of domestic workers are not aware about Hotline and Helpline, yet it has been clearly mentioned in the national domestic policy to seek support.
It has been learnt from the study that women opt for the job of domestic workers due to abject poverty, easy accessibility of the profession, divorce and different reasons. Ninety-six per cent of home helps have stated that their current wage is not enough to meet their basic needs. It is a painful choice yet parents of hapless rural girls decide to send their children as domestic helps to unknown mistresses in cities. Rural mothers send their children to cities with the hope that their children will be able to take three square meals a day, sleep under a blanket and get medical care as they deem these necessary to stay safe. But when these rural girls enter the profession, 42 per cent of them find their place on the drawing room or kitchen floors to sleep. Cent percent domestic helps work in city households for an agreed upon time and wage without a written contract. On an average, they work for 10-14 hours daily. Eighty-seven per cent of workers who work on a part-time basis are not entitled to avail of the weekly holidays. Besides, 99 per cent of them do not have the opportunity to undergo any sort of training for development of their professional skills. Only four per cent of workers are associated with any organisation.
Such information after seven years of announcement of the National Domestic Workers’ Protection Policy makes us worried enough. Because of sheer negligence and lack of responsibility of the people concerned, thousands of domestic helps are forced to lead a sub-human life. It is very much essential to get rid of this dismal situation. Forced work for over eight hours daily or depriving workers of their weekly holiday is not compatible with the ILO Convention or the existing law of the country. All must remember that the employers of house helps are not above the law. If the National Domestic Workers’ Protection Policy is not implemented then what was the justification of its declaration? Because of the failure of concerned department of the government as well as of the local government to accomplish their duty properly, domestic workers remain unaware about the issue. In our country, there exist lots of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that failed to play due role over the burning issue. These NGOs are eager for much profitable’ projects.
Domestic helps lead an inhuman and disgraceful life– it is quite unacceptable when the government preaches all the time on human resource development! As a human being these workers deserve something better. It is imperative on the part of the government to ensure their basic requirements and safe working environment. The government has declared the SDGs aiming at lasting development. The central objective of the SDGs is to leave no one behind. But achieving that objective is impossible when millions of domestic workers remain in an inhuman condition.
So, we hope the government will take effective initiatives for implementing the Domestic Workers’ Protection and Welfare Policy. Focussing on the International Women’s Day this year, hundreds of domestic workers raised their voices to establish their just rights. They assert they deserve better. They say their labour is worth more than the value it gets. They now want a safe working environment, better wage, social security and maternity leave. As their rights are long overdue, they do not want to wait any longer. We hope and believe the relevant laws will be enacted to make a favourable working environment for domestic helps free from abuse and maltreatment. We wish all domestic workers, child and adult, an abuse-free working condition. If we demand rights and respect for our house helps overseas, especially in the Middle East, then we need to start by setting an example at home. Change in attitude towards them is essential to ensure their rights and dignity. At least we should treat them as human beings and be kind to them while they are at work.
Meanwhile, in a major breakthrough, BILS has undertaken an ambitious programme of skills development training for 16,000 domestic workers of Dhaka city in an attempt to ensure their employment and raise their living standard. The four-year project (April, 2019-September, 2023) is underway under the aegis of Securing Rights of Women Domestic Workers in Bangladesh programme of BILS. Other implementing partners are Sakkhorota Ovijan, Halotask, Dustho Swastho Kendro, Karmojibi Nari, Red Orange and UCEP Bangladesh. The project is being implemented in collaboration with Oxfam in Bangladesh and financed by Global Affairs Canada.
Project Coordinator Md Yousuf Al-Mamun highlighted joint work plan for ensuring rights of house helps at a national consultation of stakeholders at a city hotel recently. BILS Director Nazma Yasmin moderated the programme participated by high government officials, researchers, journalists, Trade Union and Domestic Workers' Rights Network Bangladesh (DWRN) leaders,  NGO officials, civil society representatives and leaders of different professional organisations. Participants stressed on organising the domestic workers aiming to realise their rights and ensure decent working condition for them. They opined for incorporating them in Labour Law during the tenure of the incumbent government. They urged for strengthening a social movement to bring an end to violence and indiscriminate killing of domestic helps. They called upon the government to work in unison with Trade Union, civil society and employers for due recognition and social dignity of house helps. They underscored the need for reskilling domestic workers and creating public awareness about the issue.

The writer is a columnist. E-mail: [email protected]