THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: On a typical day, Maya L of Karakulam stirs awake at dawn and finishes all her household chores before heading off to work at 7am. Skipping breakfast, she rushes to her workplace on foot, and begins to sweep, mop, cook and do laundry. She works at multiple houses daily and returns home by dusk. For Maya and many others like her, June 16 was a remarkable day, as the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) helped them raise their needs and rights with the government.
The SEWA Union has organised the ‘My Fair Home’ campaign as part of the International Domestic Workers Day. The public rally started from the secretariat at 3pm, covering several residential areas. The campaign sought to spread awareness among the public on the need to recognise domestic work as a dignified job, as mentioned by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 189.
Domestic workers are the most rights-deprived and least succoured groups in the unorganised sector and are often belittled by society. The union members say they will fight for the workers until private household work is considered a normal job. Around 400 domestic workers took part in the rally, demanding social security and welfare schemes in the sector.
Saleela, a domestic worker from Poovar, wants everyone to view the workers in a different light. “Domestic work is not something to be looked down on. I hope the government will soon take action regarding this. It is a matter of our self-respect,” she says. According to SEWA General Secretary Sonia George, Thiruvananthapuram has more than one lakh of the around seven lakh domestic workers in Kerala.
“These multitasking ‘superheroes’ are often referred to as ‘helpers’ or ‘maids’, with the common notion being that ‘employees’ are people who work in offices. Poverty, lack of education and the desperate need to earn may be the potential factors for them to become a household worker. They face serious discrimination even in this century, and continue to suffer maltreatment,” Sonia says.
The past two years have given them a hard time, with no one employing them due to the fear of Covid spread. “I was left with nothing. The families could have understood my condition. My desperate pleas fell on deaf ears as they shut the door on my face,” says Indira R about the time she was labelled a coronavirus carrier.
SEWA Union member Thankam Sreekumar hopes steps will be taken to improve the working conditions of domestic workers and they will be provided with employee advantages. “I believe SEWA is doing a sterling job in supporting our worker friends. Their years of plight should come to an end. Through this campaign, we hope they will be able to live a better life.