Labour, Jobs and Employment – Harmonization of labour laws, gender gap, unemployment, etc.

[op-ed snap] Private power, public apathy: labour laws for domestic workers

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Mains Paper 2: Governance | Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections.

Once you are done reading this op-ed, you will be able to attempt the below.

Discuss the need for the Parliament to urgently enact a comprehensive law covering the rights of the country’s domestic workers?

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

 Mains level: International Labour Organisation’s Convention 189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers. Why  India is unwilling to ratify it.



  • Domestic workers are among the most exploited sections of the Indian workforce. 

Domestic labourers in India

  1. The 1931 Census recorded a large pool of labour, i.e. 27 lakh, as domestic workers, or ‘servants’
  2. These high numbers reduced considerably with the growing intensity of the anti-feudal struggle and development of occupational diversities in the post-Independence era. 1971 Census recorded only 67,000 domestic workers.
  3. However, this trend has been reversed since the early 1990s and  1991 Census recorded 10 lakh domestic workers. 
  4. The NSSO data of 2004-05, for example, has recorded 47 lakh domestic workers in India; the majority of whom, i.e. 30 lakh, were women. 

Noida issue

  • The recent confrontation between this otherwise docile workforce of domestic workers and their wealthy employers in Noida(Uttar Pradesh) brought to light, the widespread exploitation of domestic workers, and the huge antagonism between their interests and those of their employers

Over exploitation

  1. Employer-dominated, domestic work industry is characterised by low, stagnant wage rates. Wages are particularly low for Bengali and Adivasi workers.
  2. Irregular payment of wages by employers
  3. Extraction of more work than agreed upon at the start of employment
  4. Practice of arbitrarily reducing wages

Reasons behind over-exploitation

  1. Indian state’s unwillingness to ratify the International Labour Organisation’s Convention 189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers, and thereby, to modify landmark labour laws to bring domestic work under the purview of state regulation. 
  2. Private power of regulation enjoyed by the employer.
  3. Private nature of regulation has allowed the employer to exercise quasi-magisterial powers over the domestic worker in India.
  4. Workers’ attempts to renegotiate their terms of work or to leave such employment are outbid by verbal, and often, physical assaults by employers
  5. Domestic workers are on an almost absolute risk of unemployment or criminalisation when they try to obtain their dues.


International Labour Organisation’s Convention 189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers


  1. Each Member shall take measures to ensure the effective promotion and protection of the human rights of all domestic workers, as set out in this Convention.
  2. Each Member shall, in relation to domestic workers, take the measures set out in this Convention to respect, promote and realize the fundamental principles and rights at work, namely:
    • (a) freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining;
    • (b) the elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour;
    • (c) the effective abolition of child labour; and
    • (d) the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.
  3. Each Member shall take measures to ensure that domestic workers enjoy effective protection against all forms of abuse, harassment and violence.
  4. Each Member shall take measures to ensure that domestic workers, like workers generally, enjoy fair terms of employment as well as decent working conditions and, if they reside in the household, decent living conditions that respect their privacy.


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