October 02, 2022

CITU Holds National Convention of Domestic Workers

Kiran Moghe

AN all-India convention of domestic workers organised by the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) on September 20-21, 2022 at BTR Bhawan, New Delhi has called for the observance of December 1, 2022 as a National Demands Day for domestic workers, with an emphasis on payment of minimum wages and a paid rest day every week. December 1 is observed all over the world as the International Day against Slavery, and the convention thought it to be an appropriate occasion to highlight the conditions of modern slavery that some domestic workers face in the country.

82 delegates from the states of Andhra Pradesh (9), Assam (1), Delhi-NCR (18), Karnataka (16), Kerala (4), Madhya Pradesh (3), Maharashtra (14), Tripura (6) and West Bengal (10) and CITU Centre (1) attended the convention. The fact that only 35 domestic workers could attend the programme only drove home the point that domestic workers get no time off and those attending the convention actually ran a huge risk of job loss and arbitrary dismissal by their employers for having stayed away from their work.

After the opening remarks made by CITU secretary, A R Sindhu, who also placed a brief condolence to the martyrs of working class struggles and also the domestic workers who lost their lives during the pandemic, the convention elected a presidium consisting of Sonia Verma (Delhi), Shahana (Kerala), Selvi (Karnataka) and Sangeeta Sonawane (Maharashtra).

K Hemalata, CITU president inaugurated the convention. She pointed out the domestic workers represented one of the poorest sections of our working class with virtually no labor rights protection, and had suffered the most during the pandemic, not just in terms of job and income loss but also the stigma that was unnecessarily attached to them during that period. She noted that it was difficult to organise this section, due to its informal nature and the fact that it was difficult to contact them at their workplace, but that the joint efforts of CITU and AIDWA had resulted in the formation of registered trade unions of domestic workers in different states. She expressed confidence that a strong national movement of domestic workers led by CITU would emerge out of the convention.

A draft report that outlined the nature of paid domestic work in India, the working conditions of domestic workers, in particular their extremely low wages and reasons thereof, the multitude of tasks they perform, the lack of rest periods and paid leave, lack of social security and other benefits and the harassment and discriminatory practices they face in their everyday work was placed by Kiran Moghe. The report also highlighted their socio economic conditions, the lack of proper housing, high rents, lack of drinking water and toilets, unaffordable rates of transport, their poor health conditions and the violence they face in their own homes, along with poor access to government schemes.  The report also mentions how greater mechanisation, ordering out and availability of app based cleaning services, and impact of increasing unemployment within a section of women employers is likely to negatively impact the demand for paid domestic services. The report details the government responses to increasing mobilisations of domestic workers, and its thorough failure to put in place a comprehensive law that will recognise them as ‘workers’, regulate their working conditions and provide social security measures. The report points out that the new labour codes ignore the specificities of paid domestic work, and that the wage code does not even mention domestic workers. There is also a section on CITU’s efforts towards organising domestic workers and the challenges confronting them. The report concludes that domestic workers and their movements are at a critical juncture and that in accordance with CITU’s clarion call for “Reaching the Unreached, Organising the Unorganised”, there is a need to make concerted efforts to build a national movement of domestic workers in the coming days.  

The draft charter of demands was placed by Nilanjana Roy from Tripura, after which the delegates broke into groups to discuss the report and the demands. 15 delegates spoke in the ensuing discussion, strengthening the report with their own experiences in the different states. Delegates from Tripura and West Bengal also highlighted the challenges they faced due to the political environment in their states. In contrast the LDF government in Kerala is sympathetic about the needs of domestic workers and is trying to support them in many ways. The need for a paid weekly off and the fact that domestic workers are denied the use of toilets at their work places was raised by many delegates. The question of increased unemployment after the covid pandemic and the need for an Urban Employment Guarantee Act was also discussed. Abuse and ill treatment by employers and their generally illiberal class attitude was also mentioned. There is a need to regulate placement agencies, and look into the problems of emigrant domestic workers.

Some of these issues especially those related to the working conditions were also highlighted the next day, when Gayatri Balu placed the preliminary findings of an ongoing survey of domestic workers being conducted by CITU in different states. As of now, details are available from Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra. Armaity Irani (Maharashtra), Swarupa Rani (Andhra Pradesh), Shashikala (Karnataka), Nilanjana (Tripura), Gangeshwar (NOIDA) and Pritha (West Bengal) made observations based on their own experiences of the survey. It was decided to continue the survey and publish the findings in the coming period.

The Convention adopted three resolutions. One, which called upon the immediate ratification of ILO Convention 189 was placed by Maimoona Mollah from Delhi and supported by Shubha Shamim from Maharashtra. Another on the need for a national minimum wage for domestic workers was placed by Indrajit Ghosh from West Bengal and seconded by Swarupa Rani from Andhra Pradesh. The third, titled ‘Uphold Class Unity and Defeat Communal Forces’ was placed by Lakshmi from Karnataka and seconded by Jauhar Khan from Madhya Pradesh. The conference was greeted on behalf of AIDWA by its national vice president Asha Sharma.

The convention elected a 32 member All India Coordination Committee of Domestic Workers, with Kiran Moghe as its convener and Selvi and Indrajit Ghosh as co-conveners. There will be two additional co-conveners from Delhi and Kerala. Swarupa Rani (Andhra Pradesh), Armaity, Shubha and Sangeeta (Maharashtra), Selvi, Suneeta and Anita (Karnataka), Indrajit, Babli, Pritha and Babli (West Bengal), Panchali Bhattacharya, Nilanjana (Tripura) and Gayatri (Centre) are members of the new committee, and the other names will be conveyed after discussion in the respective states. 

In her concluding remarks, A R Sindhu noted the success of the convention, and the need for all present to take forward the decisions with vigour and dedication, making the organisation of domestic workers a priority for all. She pointed out that the survey was not being conducted for academic purposes but to understand the situation of domestic workers so that CITU can make it into a national issue. She called for a buildup of the movement towards the budget session of parliament, and a big campaign for the observance of December 1 as a National Demands Day. She pointed out that domestic workers were not to depend on the charity of their employers but seize their rightful place as part of the working class in the country and establish their identity as a worker. It was only through class struggle that we can bring about a change in attitude of employers, and that was the broad task laid out by the convention. The programme ended with resounding slogans for unity of domestic workers and solidarity with all other movements especially the joint Mazdur Kisan rally of March 2023.