A minimum hourly wage of Rs 54, the right to use toilets in the houses they work, four days off per month, paid maternity leave, pension, proper employment contracts, a welfare board and crèches for children — these are among the demands put forward by domestic helps in the state, with around 2,000 of them hitting the streets of Kolkata on Friday.
Under the banner of ‘Paschim Banga Griha Paricharika Samity’, which was recently recognised as a trade union by the government, the workers gathered near Sealdah railway station and marched to Rani Rashmoni Road. Later, they submitted a deputation to the chief minister’s office at the state secretariat.
They plan to meet Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and lobby with MLAs for a law to ensure their rights.
“What we demand is the recognition that we are labourers and we too have rights. We want a minimum hourly wage of Rs 54. Our wages are not fixed, nor any timings for our work and we are mostly exploited. There should be a proper contract between us and the employer. We have no job security and can be driven out anytime,” said Bibha Naskar (38), president of the Samity. Bibha, a resident of south Kolkata, has been a domestic help for the past 13 years while raising her son and helping her husband, who works in a garnet shop.
“Even today, we face discrimination. We are not allowed to use the washroom and are given stale food and leftovers. Through our demands, we want respect as an employee. When we are pregnant, many employers discontinue our employment and we cannot earn anything for months. We want paid pregnancy leave and four days off every month. We are a vital part of every household. Without us, the households will be dysfunctional. Yet we are at the receiving end,” said Bibha.
Tapasi Moyra (38), former secretary of the Samity, said the Samity has been writing to and meeting MLAs of different parties to raise their plight in the Assembly.
“Earlier, we sought an appointment with the chief minister but failed to get one. We are still trying… We demand that a law should be brought in to secure our rights as a labour force,” she said. Moyra says she has been a domestic help since the age of five.
Her husband is a security guard, while her daughter passed the higher secondary examination this year.
The Samity was formed on May 7, 2014, by around a dozen domestic helps. It expanded with the help of NGOs, and currently has more than 6,000 members across several districts. In 2015, they applied for recognition as a trade union. The state government recognised the Samity as a trade union in May 2018.
The Samity has also set up district and state committees to look after particular grievances and complaints of domestic workers.
“In states like Gujarat and Karnataka, domestic helps are recognised and have their own welfare boards and fixed minimum wages. But in Bengal, there are no such things. There are a large number of domestic helps. There is no official estimate. Today, nearly 3,000 domestic helps participated in the rally. They have been able to get trade union status for first time in the state and now is the time to place their demands,” said Anibrata Pramanik, convenor, Griha Sramik Adhikar Abhiyan, a platform of trade unions and NGOs championing the cause of rights for domestic workers.