Some girls from Sophia college, Mumbai, visited Helper4U office last week as they were doing a survey for domestic helpers as a project. One of the topics of discussion was about the issues faced by domestic workers in a city like Mumbai. The following case study shows typical issues that a domestic worker faces:
Gulnaz is a 20-year-old woman from a village and is a full day domestic worker for an urban family in Mumbai. She does utensil cleaning, mopping, sweeping, dusting, cooking, taking care of a 4-year-old, laundry, making beds, cleaning cupboards, watering plants and many other similar tasks.
She was forced to work as a domestic worker because of the drought in her village, and lack of education to do anything else. Her husband has also been unable to find any regular work since they migrated to Mumbai. Gulnaz soon found that being a domestic worker is more difficult than she thought. Her work grievances include:
Low pay and long working hours
Gulnaz works hard for 10-12 hrs a day but gets paid just Rs. 10,000 since she is “untrained” as per her employer. She will receive a pay rise of only about 5% next year.
No job training
Gulnaz used to do all her own household work but has no idea about how to operate modern household appliances. Microwave, mixer, washing machine, television. All these are alien concepts to her. Her employer, rather than training her properly, just explained things once. Obviously, she couldn’t understand the instructions properly and still struggles to follow complex instructions. Consequently, the employer calls her dumb, untrained, useless, etc. while continuing to employ her.
There are many mobile-based pieces of training available now. If only her employer had shared these with her it would have been a win-win for both. If employers do not have the time or energy to train your Helpers, they can outsource the training. Organizations like Helper4U conduct customized one on one training as well as group training for domestic workers. These can be done even over mobiles now, using the video call facility.
No regular or fixed work schedule
Gulnaz does not have a fixed schedule for her work and has no rest times; she can be asked to do any work at any time. Ad hoc requests come in all the time, like making snacks for guests, taking the child to the park, polishing the shoes, or messaging “Madam’s feet”. But, at the end of the day, she has to complete all her daily chores, even if it means staying back after her shift.
No private space
She has no privacy, no space where she can rest, lie down or just use her phone. Even to use the toilet she has to go to the common communal toilet in the basement, meant for all maids. She cannot use any of the 3 toilets she cleans every day in the employer’s home.
Lack of social life & support system
Gulnaz has only 2 days off in a month. When she gets to complete the pending work in her own home. Even during festivals she gets no holidays and is expected to work overtime to spruce up the house of her employer. When does she get her own house ready for any celebration? How does she visit a doctor or school of her own child? Who picks up her child from school while she is taking care of her employer’s child? No one has answers to these questions. Visits to grocery stores and vegetable stands are the only times she can socialize with people outside her household. Further, she has no right to ask for a yearly vacation. Her request for a trip back home can be turned down (even if she agrees to go without a salary) and if she goes she could also lose her job.
The law doesn’t require Gulnaz’s employer to provide social insurance. And, most employers would not want to hire her when she crosses 40 years of age as they want someone active, young, fast and able to physically handle the demands of domestic chores.
As a working woman can we empathize with this working woman, who allows many of us to have a career? How can we help her overcome some of these challenges?