Amid the debate over the underpayment of Indian domestic helps engaged by Indian diplomats abroad in the wake of the Devyani Khobragade case, the UPA government is formulating a policy under which India will accept the prevalence of the host country’s wage laws.
The draft National Policy for Domestic Workers, providing for minimum wages and the right to form unions and associations to domestic helps, states that it “shall not affect any more favourable provisions applicable to domestic or migrant workers under other bilateral/ multilateral instruments/ treaties or foreign legislations, policies, programmes or schemes”.
This provision was incorporated following the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs’ suggestion that the “national laws of the destination country will apply to the domestic workers who work abroad”.
The Union Cabinet, which took up the proposed policy on Monday, decided to refer it to a Group of Ministers after it was pointed out that the provision for giving these workers the right to form unions and associations would have to be extended to the unorganised sector also.
The Cabinet note stated that domestic workers who are recruited to work overseas must be protected from abuse and exploitation. Legislations and policies need to ensure that domestic workers taking up jobs abroad or accompanying their employers abroad shall be appropriately briefed and made aware about their rights and privileges in the country of work, it said.
According to the proposed policy, the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, in collaboration with the Ministry of Labour and Employment, must set up a mechanism to ensure potential migrant domestic workers receive written job offers or contracts, addressing the terms and conditions of employment, before going abroad. The terms and conditions must be explained to the worker in a language that is understood by him/ her.
The proposed mechanism must include measures to ensure that domestic workers are briefed about the helpline numbers or contact points such as embassies, names and addresses of civil society organisations/ workers’ organisations in the country of work which can provide assistance in case of infringment of rights or abuse.
The policy proposes to include domestic workers, whether working full-time or part-time, in the appropriate existing labour legislations. They would have the right to fair terms of employment relating to payment of minimum wages, access to social security, protection from abuse, harrassment and violence. They would also have the right to enhance their professional skills and employment opportunities. A mechanism is proposed to be set up for regulation of placement agencies too.
The Ministry of Labour and Employment would be responsible for setting up a mechanism to implement the policy.