Human Rights analysis
Domestic Helps: Are they protected?
Dr. Rehena Siddiqua
Extreme poverty, separation and divorce of wife make women helpless. In search of livelihood they are compelled to migrate in the city with their children. Most of them become labourers as well as domestic helps. They prefer urban areas than rural ones because of attraction to city life and desire to earn more money. Domestic workers are neglected. As it is an unorganized or informal sector so they are not given the recognition that workers of the formal sector are given.
There is no national statistics on domestic workers. But according to the Baseline Survey on Child domestic Labour (CDL) in Bangladesh conducted by International Labour Organization in the year 2006 it reveals that there are approximately two million domestic workers in Bangladesh, of which 12.7 percent are child domestic workers. The number of child domestic workers in Bangladesh is 421,426, of which 147,943 work in Dhaka city alone and the remainders (273,543) work in other urban and rural households. Of the CDWs, 78 percent and females and 94 percent work full-time.
Definition of domestic workers
Domestic worker means residential helping hands in consideration of wages. The workers mainly come from rural areas with extreme poverty background. A large number of them are minors and majority of them are women and girls. Domestic workers are identified as bandha (tied down), chhuta (non-bound) and pichchis (tiny ones). Depending on this category their works are assigned by their employers.
Domestic worker plays an important role in household duties. The assigned works of domestic workers are washing clothes, cleaning the house, washing kitchen and its utensils, cooking and grinding spice, looking after small children and keeping them company, running numerous errands for various family members and helping her mistress in all her household chores. Having finished their assigned works they are provided with message services, combing and plucking grey hair, cleaning lice etc.
Findings of a survey
In 2006, Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS) conducted a survey on domestic workers in Dhaka City. It is found that 50% workers are between the age limit of 05-15 years and 76.67% are female. Amongst them 46 .67% identified poverty as a major cause to choose such a job, whilst lack education and unskilled in any job also forced them to opt for the job. It is a matter of regret that though the domestic workers are very low paid they are forced to work longer hours. 46.67% domestic workers work 11-12 hours but their average wage is TK.509.6. According to 50% workers their wage range is TK.301-600. 60% workers get their wages in regular basis and 40% get irregularly. They have no separate room for sleeping. The survey disclosed that 40% domestic workers sleep at the drawing room or on the floor of bed room, 33.33% at kitchen, 16.67% at veranda, and 3.33% at store room. Only 6.67% sleep at separate room. Domestic workers do not enjoy any regular holidays or any days off during the week.
The Domestic Servants' Registration Ordinance 1961
Domestic workers are the victims of an unjust society. But there is no legislation to protect this distressed segment. The East Pakistan Domestic Servants Registration Ordinance, 1961 was promulgated providing for registration of domestic servants. It extends to some specific areas of Dhaka City. The term domestic servant means every person who renders domestic services to his employer in lieu of wages or any other consideration. According to section 3 of the Ordinance, if a person takes employment as a domestic servant, he has to report for registration to the officer-in-charge of the police-station or any other police officer. The police officer will not be below the rank of an Assistant Sub-Inspector of police and shall be authorized by the officer-in-charge. Name, address or addresses, a copy of his own photograph in duplicate, finger impression and measurements are necessary requirements for registration. Enquiries will be conducted by the officer-in-charge of the police station or the authorized officer about the correctness of the particulars.
After being satisfied about the correctness of the particulars, the officer in charge of the police station or the authorized officer shall issue a registration card containing a photograph on it. According to section 4 of the Ordinance, no person shall work as a domestic servant without registration card. Section 6 of the Ordinance provides for penalty. According to the section, violation of the provisions is punishable with simple imprisonment which may extend to one month or with fine which may extend to one hundred taka or with both.
Drawbacks of the Ordinance
From the above discussion it is clear that the Ordinance was passed only for the registration of domestic workers in Dhaka City. In this Ordinance, police reserves absolute power and authority of issuing registration card. In our country the police are not friendly with the ordinary people specially domestic helps. So they do not dare to go to the police station normally. According to the Ordinance, anytime a domestic worker moves out of a house in search of a new job he would require reporting again and again to the nearest police station. It is evident that 50% domestic helps are children. But the Ordinance has totally ignored this majority portion of workers.
The Ordinance provides for registration only to the domestic helps and there is no such provisions for the employers for similar registration which needs to be in incorporated in the said Ordinance. If this is provided there will be scope for safety or lesser cruelty of the domestic helps. It will also be helpful to identify the violators of this Ordinance as well as the offenders.
Though the Constitution of the Peoples Republic of Bangladesh has guaranteed the equal rights of all citizens but the reality is different. According to Article 14, to emancipate the peasants, workers and backward sections of the people from all kinds of exploitation are the fundamental duties of the State. Article 15 has said that providing food, clothing, shelter, education and medical care, ensuring right to work, rest, recreation, leisure and social security are the fundamental responsibilities of the State. Article 17 gives guarantee for removing illiteracy from the country by free and compulsory education. According to the Article 28(4), the State will make special provision in favour of women and children. Forced labour is prohibited and considered as a punishable offence by Article 34 of the Constitution. If we look at the domestic workers it is easy to comprehend that how far the Article have achieved their objectives.
Domestic helps are not to be recognized as labourers. So they should be included in the national statistics and be recognized as labourers. Their wages should be fixed considering their working hours and working hours should be fixed considering their age. The age limit of a domestic help should be determined consisting to the Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006. Attempt should be taken for the provisions of education and holiday. At least one hour for education and holiday for once in a year. There is no agreement for employing a domestic help. So the duration of their employment absolutely depends on the whims of their masters. As a result they may be discharged at any time. Employers' attitude towards domestic helps should be changed. Attempt should be taken for the awareness of the mass people regarding to their miseries and to treat them justly. Emphasis should be given to protect the basic rights as well as human rights of domestic servants.
As there is no regulation mentioning the minimum age, recruitment, ensuring minimum wage and congenial working conditions there is scope for harassment of the domestic helps. Hence, it is strongly recommended that the domestic helps should be included in the Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006 to address these issues or the Government may consider introducing a new law to meet these above requirements. As well the Domestic Servants' Registration Ordinance should be amended to protect the interests of the innocent domestic helps and to punish the cruel employers. Above all, importance should be given to execute the law because it would remain paper- tiger without proper execution.
The writer is Assistant Professor, Department of Law, Green University, Dhaka.