Full implementation of existing policy
When the Domestic Worker Protection and Welfare Policy 2015 came into being, it was lauded for its clear direction to recognize domestic work as formal labour and ensure the rights of domestic workers. Amongst a number of directives, it requires payment of salaries within the first seven days of the month, one month advance notice before redundancy, resting time, registration of domestic workers, days off, other leaves and support with healthcare costs. The policy also focuses on wage contracts, with part-time domestic workers being paid on an hourly basis, and full-time workers according to each month. However, the idea of having contracts between employers and domestic workers is a far cry from reality. BILS research has shown that the helpline for domestic workers are reluctant to take calls from anonymous callers and requires full disclosure. This lack of response and support means that domestic workers, even if they are aware of the existence of the helpline, are reluctant to use it. In February 2017, the High Court also directed the government to form monitoring bodies to protect the rights of domestic workers, but according to rights activists, the central monitoring cell is still barely functional. According to Aminul Islam, Member Secretary of the central monitoring cell, the main brunt of their work focuses on awareness raising. “We don’t work directly with domestic workers, but when these incidents are reported to us, especially incidents of violence and abuse, we make sure to deal with it. We focus on changing mindsets – for example, when you call a woman a ‘bua’ and not her name, she loses her identity, and we ask people to act more humanely towards domestic workers.” However, it was unclear whether any process existed where domestic workers could bring their grievances to the monitoring cell. Aminul Islam said that while there is no specific union that organizes domestic workers together, field level government offices and NGOs can bring their grievances to the monitoring cell. “There are a lot of factors, including poverty, that push people into domestic work, but as the economy improves, people will no longer need to be part of the informal labour market, and domestic workers can come under the legal protection given to formal sector workers,” he added. However, Member Secretary of Domestic Workers Right Network Nazma Yesmin said that to truly empower women and make them part of the national economy, there is a need for full implementation of the policy. “If both parties sign the contract as mentioned in the policy, only then the can the informal sector transform into a formal sector, and we can properly assess the contribution of domestic workers.” “We cannot empower these women if we are not willing to even acknowledge their rights and ensure their safety and proper working conditions,” she emphasized.