There is no doubt that domestic workers need greater protection against trafficking and abuse—often, at the hands of employers—as well as social security. But the government’s plan to bring a national policy is not the way to achieve this. As per The Economic Times, a central board is to be set up, and all domestic workers and employers have to get registered with it. The board will not only define part-time, full-time or live-in work, but will also set a wage-slab—slab rates will be fixed as per the quantum and nature of work. The policy also talks about facilitating organisation of domestic workers as well as ensuring social security “which may include contribution from the employer/worker”. Also, payments to workers will be routed through the board.
The policy is flawed on several counts. Apart from the needlessly complicated routing of payment, it ignores the fact that the wages are determined by many factors—apart from nature and quantum of work, location (wages differ between periurban areas, small cities and metros, and even within a metro or a city, these vary with locality), skills, etc, matter. So, the “equal pay for equal work” principle the policy espouses could bring down the chances of employment of a worker in an area where the median wage is low, if the slab rates are fixed towards the higher end of the current wage-range. Conversely, if they are fixed towards the lower end, a worker who works in a higher-median wage area will have to work more to compensate for the shortfall. If the board settles for a generalised increase—foreseeable given the “employer contributions” talk—it will leave domestic workers vulnerable to labour substitution. It will also hit low-skilled workers the hardest as employers would want to hire workers with some assurance of skill to get their money’s worth. Also, mandatory social security contributions are an unfair imposition at the lower end of the wage spectrum as they drastically cut the “in-hand” income. The government should foot the social security bill in such a scenario. And as for allowing unionisation, its impact is well-known—thanks to unions’ harassment, many formal sector companies have moved towards hiring more contract-workers in recent years.