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Sri Lanka: Domestic workers lack legal protection DWU Joint Secy. Ananthi Sivasubramaniam

Sri Lanka: Domestic workers lack legal protection DWU Joint Secy. Ananthi Sivasubramaniam

by IDWFED published Jul 13, 2015 12:00 AM
Joint Secretary of the Domestic Workers Union (DWU) Ananthi Sivasubramaniam spoke to Ceylon Today about the plight faced by the domestic workers, the lack of legal protection for domestics, the government's ignorance of the ground realities faced by them and most importantly the need for a legal framework encompassing a system of contracts involving the employer, the employee and the Labour Department whilst expanding the mandate of the Labour Department along with specifying a minimum wage.



Read the original article in full:
DOMESTIC WORKERS LACK LEGAL PROTECTION DWU Joint Secy. Ananthi Sivasubramaniam | Ceylontoday


Q: What are the issues faced by domestic workers?

A: In certain cases the employers do not pay the wage. For example the employer will take the domestic worker from his/her home agreeing to pay a monthly wage of Rs 10,000, yet once s/he is at the employer's home, the amount will be reduced to Rs 6,000 or Rs 7,000 stating that the amount of work given to the employee is less.

Then, there are the workers who stay at the employer's home for about four months at a stretch. When, they leave to go to their villages for a holiday, they are given wages only for two months stating that the wages for the balance two months would be given only once they return to the employer's home after the holiday. Employees in such cases, if they do not like the employer will never go back. They then do not get the wages for the two months they worked.

There is sexual abuse. A domestic worker, particularly a female needs privacy. She needs a separate room with adequate facilities. Yet, the employer will tell her to sleep in the same room as the employer's children do or if the domestic worker is charged with looking after someone elderly who is ill s/he will be made to stay in the same room as the ailing or sick senior citizen or they are asked to sleep in the kitchen or in a corner room by the garage outside.

There is no security at the workplace. Anyone can come to the kitchen at night even to drink water. The domestic worker's sleep therefore gets disturbed. If the employer is having a big party which may go on well past 12 midnight, the domestic will not be able to sleep as the kitchen will be in use. In such a context, if a guest at the party harasses the domestic, there is no way anything can be done.

Domestics are given old food which has been cooked and then refrigerated and is over the course of even as long as four to five days, reheated and given as meals to the domestic.

Q: What are the kinds of wages domestic workers receive?

A: They do not get an adequate wage befitting their labour. They are mostly living in extreme, dire poverty. Those who work on a daily basis get paid about Rs 400 to Rs 500 per day. This includes their costs of transportation too. Those who stay at the employer's home get paid between Rs 15,000 and Rs 20,000. The wage is wholly insufficient in view of the fluctuating and high, cost of living.

Q: What is the mechanism through which they can seek legal redress?

A: There is no law or legal mechanism. If a domestic worker is sacked there is nowhere s/he can go whereas if an employee in the State or the private sector is sacked, s/he can go to the Labour Tribunal.

Q: What has the DWU done about these issues?

A: We started in 2005. In 2008, we conducted a research survey. We believe that there are some 100,000 domestic workers islandwide. In about 1990, just under 2,000 domestic workers, were members of the DWU. In 2008, we convened a conference along with other trade unions to which we invited the then Commissioner General of Labour and the then Secretary to the Ministry of Women's Affairs. We informed the duo that legal protection was essential. We continued discussions and then submitted a legal draft to the Labour Department.

In March 2012, the DWU registered as a union. The leadership of other trade unions is not held by labourers. The DWU is helmed and led by domestic workers. Committee members, the President and the Secretary are all domestic workers. I am the only one who is not a domestic worker. I am there because there is a mindset and an attitude amongst people that they do not want to accept domestic workers and in order to counter that. We have a collective leadership based on democratic practices. In 2012, yet another legal draft was submitted along with a petition from 5,000 domestic workers across the island. We handed this over to the Labour Department and the Secretary to the Ministry of Labour at the time of the previous regime and former government.

We want a system of contracts. We want a contract to be signed between the employee, the employer and the Labour Department. It should contain details of the employee's wage or salary, the total amount including the basic salary, whether it is to be paid to a bank or given to the domestic worker's hand, how many days will the domestic worker be at work, what the holidays and off days there are, whether they would be given accommodation in a separate room or detailing where the domestic worker would sleep and what time the domestic worker would be taking meals and where they would be taking meals. It is only once the employer and domestic worker both sign the contract that the domestic worker is allowed to go to work at the employer's home. To minimize conflicts, if either party the employer and the employee has an issue, they have to directly contact the union as opposed to attempting to sort out the matter between one another. Both parties are to be held responsible. We are practising this in Pathana, Kandy, Colombo, Hatton, Batticaloa, Maskeliya, Kaththankudy, Galle and Deniyaya.

There should also be a minimum wage.

Source: Ruwan Laknath Jayakody and Umesh Moramudali/Ceylontoday

Story Type: News

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