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Servant's work hours, leave not to be at whims & fancies of master anymore

Over four million domestic workers could look forward to better work conditions with India endorsing a global treaty protecting them.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Jun 18, 2011, 02.57 AM IST
NEW DELHI: Over four million domestic workers could look forward to better work conditions with India endorsing a global treaty protecting them, but employers need not worry about unrealistic terms of employment as the country has insisted on deciding on specific details like terms of contract and working hours depending on feasibility.

"We definitely support an international agreement protecting domestic workers, but norms should not be thrust upon us and countries should be free to decide on nuances such as terms of contract and working hours," a government official told ET.

The International Labour Organisation, or ILO, passed the domestic workers convention with a large majority of member countries, including India, voting in its favour on Thursday in Geneva. The new convention would ensure domestic workers enjoyed conditions "not less favourable" than other workers and made governments responsible for ensuring they understood their rights, preferably through written contracts.

It would also protect them against physical abuse. The document offers domestic workers a full rest day every week, and prevents employers requiring domestic workers to remain with an employer's household during their annual leave or rest days. The convention has to be ratified by member countries to become operational. India and some other countries, including Spain, pointed out to the ILO that information on terms and contracts for domestic workers have to be considered within a country to ensure feasibility of implementation.

On the issue of hours of work and periods of rest, India and some other countries said that given the specific nature of the work performed and services provided by domestic workers, regulating it may require a tailored approach. Civil society organisations in India working with domestic workers are hopeful that the international convention would nudge India into framing a legislation regulating hiring of domestic workers and ensuring suitable working condition for them.

"The ILO convention will certainly help better the condition of domestic workers in the country as all member states including India will have to ensure minimum working condition for them and accord them protection," said Kamal Chand from Domestic Workers Forum, a Delhi-based NGO.

Chand, who helps organise domestic workers in groups to have collective bargaining power, said the government would now have to work on a national legislation for domestic workers and would also feel pressured to include domestic workers in the sexual harassment bill.

The domestic workers convention was approved at the 100th International Labour Congress of the ILO with states, labour unions and employer representatives voting 396 in favour and 16 against it with 63 abstentions. According to the ILO, Asia, including the Middle East, is way behind other regions in terms of providing domestic workers with suitable working condition.

In a statement released on Friday, the ILO said that 95 percent or more of domestic workers in Asia receive salaries that are below the minimum wage and do not have a limit on their weekly hours of work.
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