Domestic workers left out of legal cover

Updated March 13, 2017


— International Labour Organisation
— International Labour Organisation

The issue of domestic workers in Pakistan’s society has assumed enough strength to warrant a policy that lends protection to a workforce which helps keep most households functional.

For effective policy intervention, one that lends support to this segment, it is important to look deeper so as to identify various dimensions of this pool of workers including age, gender and ethnicity. The current Labour Force Survey provides sufficient data to define some key features of the country’s domestic workforce.

Broadly, they can be divided in three groups: day, live-in and task specific workers. As classification indicates day workers are hired for a single or multiple tasks and often work for more than one employer.

The live-in ones stay at employers’ residence and attend to multiple chores. According to the Labour Force Survey 2014-15 there are 100,000 live-in workers in the country, 73pc male and 27pc females. Most (64pc) of them are illiterate and the majority (55pc) work in cities.

The most advanced province, Punjab, provides 78pc of total domestic workers. About one tenth (13pc) are under age (less than 14 years) and 8pc fall in the age bracket of 15 to 18 years. About 91pc of the domestic help is not trained.

They do not have any legal remedy. A domestic worker-specific legislation would be a move in the right direction

The occupational breakup shows that 41pc are cleaners, 14pc cooks, 12pc caretakers, 8pc drivers and 7pc freight handlers.

The average net salary of half of the pool of live-in-workers is between Rs5,000-10,000 per month, 28pc earn Rs10,000-15,000 monthly.

About half of the live-in-workers are migrants. Some 50,000 (50pc) moved to their workplace from Chakwal, Hafizabad, Kasur, Sheikhupura, Okara, Nankana Sahib, Chinot, Khushab, Mianwali, Multan, Khanewal, Lodhran, Vehari, Sahiwal, Bahawalpur and Rahim Yar Khan districts in Punjab.

Another 37pc have migrated from Peshawar, Charsadda, Kohat, Abbottabad, Mansehra, Batagram, Upper Dir, Chitral, and Fata in KP, while 10pc migrated from Hyderabad, Tharparkar and Karachi Central in Sindh.

Labour data shows that 0.364m domestic workers are day-based, task-specific. This includes more than 0.358m cleaners who sweep, vacuum, wash and polish, take care of household linen, purchase household supplies, prepare food and serve meals. 6,000 are domestic housekeepers.

A closer look at the statistics of day-based workers shows that 84pc females are illiterate and more than half work in urban areas.

The population of this segment of workforce is concentrated in Punjab (79pc) followed by Sindh (14pc) KP (5pc) and less than 1pc in Balochistan. On average, working hard at multiple household earns them Rs5,000 at most.

Data also shows that 60,000 (17pc) workers are underage and fall in the category of ‘child labour’. The government needs to take steps to ensure that all such children go to school to fulfil their obligation under Article 25A of the constitution.

The number of domestic workers mentioned in the three categories (live-in, day-based and task-specific workers) totals 0.464m which accounts for 2.1pc of total paid employees. Majority of these workers are living in the province of Punjab, and hence it is the responsibility of the Government of Punjab to make arrangements to regulate working conditions.

The state is constitutionally bound to provide free and compulsory education to all children of age 5-16. It should make arrangements for educating domestic workers in such a manner that the source of income for poor households is not disturbed while their children also gain an education.

There is no federal or provincial law that specifically governs the status or employment conditions of domestic workers. There is only one section in the Provincial Employees’ Social Security Ordinance 1965 which is applicable in Punjab, KP, Balochistan and ICT; the Sindh Employees Social Security Act 2016 for the Sindh province provides that domestic workers have a right to medical care.

Many domestic workers live in sub-humane conditions, exploited and abused by their employers as confirmed by several cases reported in the media. Sadly domestic workers do not have any legal remedy. A domestic worker-specific legislation would be a move in the right direction.

The government should also sign, adopt and ratify the International Labour Organisation Domestic Workers Convention 2011, that recognises the contribution of such workers in the nation’s development, and calls to give them a right to organise, minimum wage, decent work and living conditions, along with a right to social protection, protection from abuse and forced labour and also sets a minimum wage for domestic workers.

Published in Dawn, Economic & Business, March 13th, 2017