MUMBAI: Domestic workers in India will soon be entitled to a minimum wage and social security benefits, according to a draft proposal that activists say does not go far enough to protect these workers and lets employers off the hook.
The policy proposes to give domestic workers the right to register themselves as employees, guarantees a minimum wage, protection from abuse, and access to health insurance, maternity benefits and pension, as well as an opportunity to add skills.
The policy will "explicitly and effectively expand the scope of applicable legislations, policies and schemes to grant domestic workers rights that are enshrined in laws," a labour ministry statement said late on Monday, without specifying a timeline.
There are at least 67 million domestic workers globally, and this number is rising quickly, according to the International Labour Organization. About 80 per cent are women.
India's rising affluence, urbanisation and growing numbers of working women have spurred increasing demand for domestic workers in the country.
Rights activists estimate there are tens of millions of such workers, most of them women who are often underpaid, exploited and abused.
Many are young, largely uneducated women from poor, rural areas, who live apart from their families.
In July, a police complaint by a maid saying she was beaten up and locked up by her employers in an upscale neighbourhood near New Delhi triggered days of violence.
Activists have been campaigning for years for the passage of a separate bill to provide domestic workers with a minimum monthly salary of 9,000 rupees (US$140) and benefits including social security cover and mandatory time off.
The proposed policy does not go far enough to protect domestic workers and there is little clarity on how the objectives will be met, said Geeta Menon of non-profit Stree Jagruti Samiti that focuses on domestic workers' rights.
"Neither the government nor the employers are convinced that these workers should have rights and benefits; in fact, they do not even recognise them as workers," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"The policy itself is weak, there is no onus on employers, and we see little chance of it being effectively implemented. Unless our attitudes towards domestic workers changes, their situation will not improve," she said.
(US$1 = 64.9163 Indian rupees)