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Domestic workers come together for their rights in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu

Published on: Monday 30th Jul 2018
Domestic workers come together for their rights in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu

The long struggle and consistent efforts of Paschim Bango Griho Paricharika Samity (PGPS), a state-level domestic workers’ collective, finally paid off as it was granted trade union status by the Government of West Bengal. PGPS was set up in 2015 with support from Sristy for Human Society, Society for People’s Awareness and our West Bengal Regional Office, and has been working for the recognition of domestic workers as labour, with rights to social protection and regulation of wages and work conditions.

The first major milestone for PGPS came in 2016 when their consistent advocacy with the Labour Department led to the formation of a minimum wage feasibility assessment committee to which the Secretary, PGPS was invited as a member. This platform provided domestic workers a space to voice their concerns; they also calculated their “fair wages” and submitted it to the department. PGPS subsequently started expanding its network and gathering information and references from states where progressive steps had been taken in favour of domestic workers. In February, 2017, PGPS applied for trade union registration. Thanks to their consistent follow-ups, PGPS finally got recognition as the first domestic workers’ trade union in West Bengal in June 2018.

“Together, we show the society the power of our collective. Many domestic workers could access social security schemes through the collective’s efforts and many got their due wage, bonus and weekly off. We have gained much in our short time, and we are as united as ever,” says Tapashi Moira, state secretary, PGPS, with pride shining bright in her eyes!

To celebrate their collective struggles and success, and to commemorate International Domestic Workers’ Day which was on June 16, nearly 2,600 domestic workers from across West Bengal gathered in Kolkata on June 22 for a walkathon. In a meeting with stakeholders that followed, domestic workers drew attention to the need for a law on domestic work to ensure minimum wages, social security and other rights.

On June 14, 2018 our Tamil Nadu Regional Office, along with the National Domestic Workers’ Movement (NDWM), organized a collective meeting of 300 domestic workers at Perumbakkam in Chennai to advocate for minimum wages and better working conditions for domestic workers. Ms. Kannagi Packianathan, Chairperson, Tamil Nadu State Commission for Women, participated as the chief guest. During the meeting, the need to fix minimum wages by the state government was raised, and the need for a state-level policy for domestic workers was discussed. In addition, domestic workers demanded for that one per cent of the house tax be channelled to the Domestic Workers’ Welfare Board, to ensure better pension. The meeting also called for the national ratification of International Labour Organization’s Convention 189 concerning decent work for domestic workers. Assuring the community that her office would always be open to engaging with them in redressing their grievances, Ms. Packianathan urged the gathering to make the best use of the various government schemes available. She also distributed certificates to women who had successfully completed the skill-training in housekeeping, jointly organized by NDWM, Apollo Medskills and ActionAid India. 

ActionAid India’s engagement with the issue of domestic work and the rights of domestic workers spreads across many regions including Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and West Bengal. ActionAid is also in collaboration with the European Commission to engage with domestic workers as people in the informal economy (PIE). The project seeks to cover 15 cities across six states.

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