Working Conditions of Women Domestic Workers


Dr Anuradha Jain
Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies

The role of women in the development of economy and society is not less important than men, who constitute almost the half of the total world population. Women, especially the urban women, work at a variety of tasks leaving little time for leisure. They have little control over the income they earn for the family. They also have little control over the productive resources. Women in the third world countries are found working in various spheres, e.g., in the agricultural fields, in the plantations, in the orchards, in cottage and small-scale enterprises, in manufacturing and so on. In every sphere of economic activity they contribute a lot but what they get in exchange, is always less than what their male counterparts get for the same type of job. Over last few decades, there have been a rapid growth in the number of women employed in India with majority of them being engaged in informal sector of the economy where jobs are often low paid and repetitive. Domestic servants are engaged in a variety of works like washing utensils and clothes, fetching water, sweeping and cleaning house along with irregular marketing, grocery, shopping, ration drawing etc. In spite of their involvement in multifarious activities as domestic servants the wage they receive are the lowest and the problems they face in work-place are many. This paper, exploring primary data collected from 200 women domestic workers in Panipat District, evidently brings out that domestic work as a feminine occupation. Based on the findings, we argue why it is important to create a comprehensive social security system for domestic workers in India.

In the post independence most of the migrants are males so that domestic work is a male job. In the course of time, workers migrated with families, forced males to undertake other jobs leaving domestic help for their female counterparts. Hence, there has been increase in the proportion of women employed in domestic work, but the demographic profile of the domestic work force has also changed. Before a few decades ago, most domestics were female heads of households, in particular widowed, deserted and older women. As family migration has increased younger women increasingly adopt domestic work.

Social Security and Welfare Act 2008 -NCW Draft bill (ILO, 2009), defined domestic worker as, " A person who is employed for remuneration whether in cash or kind, in any household through any agency or directly either on a temporary basis or permanent, part time or full time to do house hold work or allied work includes but is not limited to activities such as cooking or part of it, washing clothes of the children /sick/ old/ handicapped or utensil, cleaning or dusting of house caring, nursing".

Domestic workers make up a large portion of the workforce, especially in developing countries because of inability of formal sector in providing jobs, inadequate earnings of the male counterparts, poverty, no skill and formal education to find suitable employment, easy access of this kind of jobs in urban areas and no opportunity cost are the push factors. Whereas from the employers point of view break down of joint families, growing female work participation, growing income levels, status sensitivity, double work burden, availability of labour at cheaper wages at convenient terms and to enjoy more leisure are the pull factors for the growth of this sector. The number of domestic workers has been increasing in the industrialized world due to aging and reduction of government expenditure on welfare activities. At present, paid domestic work is the fastest growing sector of employment for urban women.

Government policies are not effective enough to curb the problem of maid abuse, as it is difficult to enforce the law for every household. The public perception of domestic work is often, that it is undignified work, and the workers in this sector should be pitied as they are not qualified for anything else. Violence against domestics is hard to quantify, but it falls in to various types physical violence, ranging from rape to repeated slapping, kicking, hair-pulling, pinching, scalding and food deprivation, over work without extra pay, non-payment of wages or reduction of wages and poor living conditions.

According to the report of the National Commission on Self Employed Women, women in the informal sector 'of all the services in India this is the most unregulated and disorganized, and often the most denigrating and humiliating'. Many of the higher caste employers do not allow Scheduled Caste women/men in cooking. The caste is not generally considered for all other household jobs. Migrant domestic women workers are among the world's most vulnerable and discriminated workers.

Domestic child labour is treated as the employer's property, as little slaves who can used to perform any task. They are subject to third degree treatment and sexual exploitation. There are more girls under age sixteen employed in domestic service than in any other form of child labor (ILO). In 1999, the UN declared "child domestic servants not only work long hours for a pittance but are particularly vulnerable to sexual as well as other physical abuse".

Part time domestic work has become increasingly popular in India. Women perform number of tasks in different houses and return home to their house work. Employers also prefer part time domestic help because of problem of space in urban setting and cost involved in employing full time domestic workers.  A large number of domestic workers belongs to lower castes and marginalized sections of the society number of domestic workers found today has increased greatly over the last three decades .The increase can be because of modernization which has led to more women working out of the home and having to be replaced by domestic workers, big development projects forced entire population to migrate to the cities in order to survive. The emergence nuclear families are also reason for the appointment of domestic workers to look after house hold tasks. India does not include domestic workers in the minimum wage legislation (ILO,2010).

Review of Literature

Informal sector is normally a larger source of employment for women than for men in the developing world. Women labor force in informal sector is increasing because men choose employment in the formal sector of the labor market. A place where labor is exchanged for wages; an LM is defined by geography, education and technical expertise, occupation, licensure or certification requirements, and job experience
(Nair, 2008).

When material deprivation dictates poor women to contribute to the household survival, it is the informal sector that comes to their rescue. In India, the great majority of female informal labor force is working and their number is increasing at faster rate across various occupations and operations in both organized and unorganized sectors (Chen et al, 2006).

Desauza (1959) pointed out that due to industrialization and changes in socio-economic life of the people, more and more people depend on domestic servants. Therefore, the movement of the poor from rural to urban areas has been steadily increasing and they have been employing themselves in domestic service.

In fact, in many rural areas, female labourers work as domestic servants, often combining this employment with agricultural work on a seasonal and even daily wage basis (Kothari, 1991).

Ravichandran (1979) in his study on women domestic workers in Madras slums revealed their deplorable socio-economic conditions. It further indicated that 60 percent of the women domestic workers belonged to Scheduled Castes. More than 50 percent were illiterate and remaining had primary education.

Domestic workers continue to earn lower wages, usually below the state's minimum wages and exploited by employers and employment agencies. Wages paid are usually low both in absolute as well as compared to other occupations, even to other low productivity activities. Gender pay gap is also exists in this sector. Domestic workers are being treated as 'invisible' work force. Live in domestics are often even locked up in house. In a patriarchal society such as India's cooking, washing and cleaning have always been left women of the house. Since house work has been linked to the lower castes, most domestic workers are poorly paid or under paid. Since domestic work is not regulated, employers can hire fire and treat such workers as they please. They are often seen as non persons and not even called by name. (Scaria, 2004).

Different types of abuses they are facing are beating, burning with hot iron, threats, insult and humiliation by shaving heads, food deprivation, sexual exploitation, etc (Human Rights Watch 2008).

Linking larger debate on Domestic work to the present Study

Viewing the nature of domestic work in ancient India, Greece and Rome, Khanderia (1947) traces roots of domestic work to slavery and colonial features. Further pointing but how caste system in India emerged as a result of dominance from the Aryans who invaded India during 3000 BC, Khanderia explains that the invasion of Aryans lead to stratification of society into four colors- Brahmins, Khatriyas, Vaishyas and Sudras- which is present even today's modern India. Through the stratification of people into Aryans and non-Aryans, hierarchy of work was created where higher order works were made available to higher strata of the society, and lower order works for Sudras. Even today, despite the changing economic scenarios, we see the slavery, which is very well termed as "modern slavery under globalization" (McGovern, 2003) in the form of domestic work. The scenario of modern slavery is not only visible in developing world, but also very clearly visible in highly developed geographies such as Europe. In the form of domestic work cruel forms of slavery like forced labour or servitude is part of elite societies (Mantouvalou, 2006). Domestic work in the recent literature and policy debates appears to be a "different" (Peterson, 2007) form of work. This recurrent framing of domestic work as 'different', in fact, legitimizes while pointing at precarious working conditions, as a lineage from the colonialism, and servitude approach of the society (Ibid). Domestic work is not only a most heinous nature of work, but also remains a devalued sector with a precarious working conditions, to an extent, why today, domestic work still remains a low valued and invisible work has a roots in the capitalistic and patriarchal discourses (Francois, 2008). Further, in this context, low wage scenario in domestic work segment is very well understood, owing to the reason that domestic work was traditionally considered to be an unpaid activity, mainly performed by female members of the family. This gender relations in the context of domestic work, as ILO defines "gendered" family responsibilities in private homes (ILO, 2010), offers a convincing argument for low wage offered in this labor segment.

Further, the domestic work also produced racial, gender and class discrimination in society (Ibid). Importantly, racism and discrimination based on migrant status, especially in so called 'democratic and secular' lands like United Kingdom (Anderson, 2007) remains as an example to argue why domestic workers across the globe are in need of an appropriate state intervention. In recent days, the ILO (2010) report compares the domestic work to more of "master-servant" relationship that takes our thinking and imaginations once gain back to many centuries. It is apparent from this expression that employee-employer relationship suffers many deficiencies, especially contractual nature of the work, migrant status of the employee, and formal nature of interactions do not allow a healthy relationship to develop between employer and employee (Chan, 2005). Interestingly, racism scenario doesn't only confine to the migration status, color of the skin, or religion of the person, given the nature of co- existence of people from multiple religions, multiple castes within these religions, sub castes within a caste, and different community identities within a sub caste makes the analysis more complex.

In a traditional description, domestic work was considered to be an unpaid work performed mainly by females in the family. In the given changing socio-economic scenario such as increasing ageing population, occupations in industries becoming more lucrative with changes "in the organization of work and the intensification of work" (ILO, 2010a), prompting participation of women, especially women from middle class families (Platzer, 2006), in labor market , hence the so called 'un-paid non- market activity', domestic work remains out of the purview of list of occupational options for educated persons, while raising the importance of outsourced domestic work as a separate occupation, mainly performed by migrant workers or economically weaker sections of the society. Partly, this phenomenon leads to a crucial role in making domestic work a segment of employment choice for millions of workers across the world (ILO, 2010).


Basically the questions were analyzed on the basis of responses of female domestic workers and are as follows:

* Employees Profile: Majority of the respondents lie in the age group between 25-35 and were illiterate. Most of the respondents were married and from rural background because poverty and unemployment is more in rural areas.

* Family structure: Most of workers had 2-4 children. They used to send their children to schools and majority of respondents' husband worked in factory to earn livelihood.

* Method of getting job: They had various modes to get job like with the help of relative or neighborhood, by own efforts but maximum get job with the help of fellow workers

* Movement to workplace: The respondents cover the distance from their house to workplace on foot because their income level is low and they can't afford rickshaw or auto for traveling only few respondents take rickshaw or auto. And they mainly prefer to work nearby their home.

* Requirement of Working: Most of the workers are doing this type of job due to economic compulsion but they do want to shift to some other job but for more betterment and are satisfied regarding their job

* Nature of Service:

* Number of Houses Covered: Majority of the respondents cover 3-5 houses per day and approximate hours work done by them are 2-5 hours.
* Type of domestic services: Each respondent performed lot of works and majority of the women done cleaning of floors and cleaning of utensils. Most of the respondents argued that they got refreshment by their employers but treated as servants. Only few were committed that they were treated as family members

* Wage & Savings: Most of the women earn the income between 2000-3000 and deposit their earnings in banks or post office or give to their husband but majority of the workers prefer to give to their husband

* Other Facilities: Most the workers get refreshment from their employers, gifts on festival & 1-2 holidays in a month without any deduction of income


* The female domestic workers should not be exploited and they must be treated as family members.
* Refreshment should be offered from time to time so that they work properly.
* Holiday should be given for genuine cause without deduction in their salary.
* Some gifts or money should be given during festivals in order to make the sincerity towards their work.
* There should be trust on the employees so that they feel comfortable and become loyal towards their work and satisfied regarding their environment in which they have to work.
* Proper salary must be paid according to their work.
* Due to lack of employment opportunities in rural areas rural development programmes in rural areas should be strengthened to increase the employment opportunities in villages.
* Majority of the women are doing these types of jobs due to economic compulsion, hence, poverty elevation programmes should be organized from time to time.
* Most of the women are uneducated, hence education development programmes should also be organized in rural areas.
* Some development programmes should be organized by the government for widows and women of weaker section and some educational facilities should be provided by the government to the children of these domestic workers.


* Anderson, Bridget. 2007. A Very Private Business. European Journal of Women's Studies 14, no. 3:
247 -264.
* Chan, Annie Hau-nung. 2005. Live-in Foreign Domestic Workers and their Impact on Hong Kong's Middle Class Families. Journal of Family and Economic Issues 26, no. 4: 509-528.
* Chen, Martha., Vanek, Joann., Heintz, James. 2006. Informality, Gender and Poverty: A Global Picture. Economic and Political Weekly 41, no. 21: 2131-2139.

Dr Anuradha Jain
Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies

Source: E-mail December 27, 2013


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