Goan Domestic 

Workers Union

Iris Cecilia Faith Gomes

In 2013, the Convention on Domestic Workers came into force. It is the 189th convention adopted by the International Labour Organisation, which defines the work of domestic workers as ‘decent’ work, lending value to the numerous tasks undertaken by them on an equivalent level as any other worker. The Convention on Domestic Workers ensures that domestic workers obtain remuneration commiserate with the labour involved, a safe environment to work in, protection from abusive treatment, provision for redressal of the complaints of domestic workers, regulation of work hours, social security and so forth.

Domestic workers in Goa usually get a raw deal in terms of wages and social security. It is estimated that there are over 7 lakh domestic workers in Goa and a huge number work in unsatisfactory conditions. Many States in India have set in motion legislations such as Unorganized Social Security Act, 2008 and Minimum Wages Schedules. Goa, unfortunately, does not make the list. Nevertheless, these legislations fall short as they do not provide the comprehensive coverage Convention 189 can usher in. 180 countries have signed the Convention. Since India has held back from ratifying the Convention, domestic workers not just in Goa but all over the country, have been deprived of rights that would help improve their lot tremendously.

The ICM (Immaculati Cordis Mariae) Sisters or Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary work in the areas of health care, education and social work. In Goa we have the Goa Domestic and Migrant Forum which is managed by Sr Marie Lou Barboza and supported by Sr Escaline Miranda and Sr Orpha Tirkey. The Sisters of ICM have long been in the sphere of alleviating the deplorable circumstances of domestic workers. Sr Jeanne Devos ICM started the National Domestic Workers’ Movement in 1985, in the Dindigul district of Tamil Nadu. The movement reaped innumerable benefits for domestic workers in Tamil Nadu.

The Sisters of ICM wish to bring similar changes to Goa and reverse the adverse state of affairs for domestic workers all over India. The plan of action is to prod the Central Government to ratify the Convention on Domestic Workers, but it seems to be a long drawn out effort. Arguments against the provisions of the 189th Convention are that the place of work is not adequately defined to bring individual employers under one category as in the case of a factory that has factory workers. How does one monitor individual employers? This is where the need for a union for domestic workers comes in.

The Sisters visited Delhi in 2015 to approach Members of Parliament and field two issues. One was the dismissal of a draft of a bill to allow children below 14 to work in the home base. The reason, as stated by the Government, was that those living in poverty need the help of their children especially where a family enterprise is concerned, otherwise they will end up on the streets. Sr Mari Lou says, ‘We know how easily this law could be misused and manipulated to bring children into labour. Children should remain children and not lose their childhood in this manner. This may also lead to a lot of children dropping out of school.’

The other issue is, of course, the ratification of the 189th Convention of the International Labour Organisation. In both cases the Sisters have been assured of the support of MPs of the ruling party and the opposition. The Department of Human Rights and the Department for Women and Child Development have decided to take the cause further too.

The Sisters are gearing up for a training camp for the domestic workers that will inform the workers of the benefits of a union and shape leaders to take on the responsibilities that they will have to shoulder. Sr Marie Lou says, ‘We have to get the Government to recognise the union. As a union you can file a case against the government.’

Sr Escaline, who took over the reins of the movement from Sr Jeanne Devos but is now semi-retired, says, ‘Demands will be met only when the workers take to the streets in protest!’ This seems reminiscent of the manner in which domestic workers in Tamil Nadu obtained a settlement of minimum wage and social security.

The domestic workers will be trained by members of the National Domestic Workers Movement from the 27th (9.00am) to the 28th (4.30pm) at Dashia, behind JMJ Hospital, Porvorim. At the end of the camp, leaders of the domestic workers will be selected under whom the union will be registered. This will mark the beginning of a new dawn for domestic workers in the State.