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Devaluation and Discrimination of Domestic Workers

Unnayan OnneshanThe Unnayan Onneshan, an independent multidisciplinary think-tank, calls for codification of domestic workers, who historically have remained voiceless, economically devalued, socially discriminated and led downcast lives, as labourers and award of consequential entitlements of rights enshrined in the core labour standards.

Debunking the orthodox myths, the think-tank builds five analytical properties of the domestic workers based upon ground realities. “The domestic workers are unseen; engaged in production, not recipient of consumption goods; involved in public spheres, despite functioning in private spaces; not unique affective labourers, but toiling in employment relationship; and exploited and high surplus value is extracted through wage differentials.”

 The first-ever nationwide survey conducted on domestic work by the research organisation reveals that a domestic worker labours on an average of 58.1 hours per week, more than four hours of agriculture and non-agriculture sector workers and fetch less than 1.27 times of wage of an agricultural labourer and 2.09 times of an average garment worker.

The survey finds that an average income of a domestic worker in a month is BDT 2535.76 whereas the minimum wage of a garment industry labourer is BDT 5300.00 for the same period.

Commenting that the differentiations in wages remain complex due to multiple determinants, the Unnayan Onneshan points out that daily averages wages are BDT 114.44, BDT 74.86, BDT 37.32, BDT 47.75, BDT 55.64, BDT 64.76, BDT 55.99 for divisions of Dhaka, Chittagong, Rajshahi, Khulna, Sylhet, Barisal and Rangpur respectively.

A woman domestic worker toils on an average 63 hours in a week, more than nine hours of a woman agricultural day labourer and 12 hours of a non-agricultural worker and draws lowest wage, only 28.1 percent of agricultural day labourer and 15.4 percent of non-agricultural worker.

In case of domestic children workers, 57.5 percent work more than nine hours per day and 12.0 percent have no fixed timeframe. A child domestic worker receives on an average BDT 1185.00 per month whereas 28.7 percent of them do not receive any regular payment.

These were revealed in a book titled “Domestic Workers: Devaluation and Discrimination, State of Labour in Bangladesh 2014,” released in connection with the observance of International Labour Day.

The think-tank conducted a country-wide survey in seven districts of seven administrative divisions by using ‘multistage stratified sampling (MSS)’ and the number of households from each district was selected using ‘probability proportional to size (PPS)’ method. A total of 536 domestic workers, comprising 189 from rural and 347 from urban areas, were chosen randomly and interviewed for the purpose of this pioneering research.

As regards the differentials of wages and discrimination in rights, the Unnayan Onneshan
reasons that overcrowding and undercutting wear down the wages, rights and bargaining powers, aggravated by the absence of legal regimes and regulatory structures.

The Unnayan Onneshan observes that policymakers are enthusiastic about the harassment of domestic workers, but dodge the questions of wages and entitlements masquerading through citing the class heterogeneity of employers and the dependence of most middle class homes on uninterrupted service of domestic workers.

Refereeing to the rectification of the exclusion of domestic workers, the research organisation suggests that they need to be classified and codified as labourers and to be ensured with minimum wage, payment for overtime, regular leisure and meal periods, healthy and safe work environments, no harassment and abuse at workplace, paid vacation, right to terminate the agreement of employment through notice and right to be organised.

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