Bangladesh Awami League has always shown its commitment to ensuring social and human development along with economic development of the country. Thus, ensuring social justice has always been a priority for the current Awami League led government. In line with that prioritization, the government has formulated a new policy to ensure the welfare of domestic workers. According to the Labour Force Survey 2010, Bangladesh is home to 1.4 million domestic workers, aged 15 years or more, who work at residential houses, messes and dormitories. However, the number is thought to be much more in reality.
The "Grihakarmi Surakkha and Kalyan Neeti-2015" (The Domestic Workers Protection and Welfare Policy-2015), which was approved by the Cabinet on December 20, 2015 makes provisions for, among others: minimum age for work; fair wages; decent working conditions; fixed working hours; identity cards; contract of employment; maternity leave and legal actions against physical or verbal abuse and sexual harassment. The policy outlines the duties and responsibilities of the employers, the employees and the government separately.
The Ministry of Labour and Employment (MoLE) finalized the draft policy in an inter-ministerial meeting in March last year after consulting stakeholders for a long time. However, the first move involving the policy goes back to 2008. The policy has been formulated keeping in mind the provisions of the existing labour laws in the country (including Bangladesh Labour Welfare Act and Convention No. 189 of the International Labour Organization (ILO), of which Bangladesh is a signatory. It should be noted that Bangladesh voted for the adoption of this ILO convention. In 2011, the ILO adopted Convention 189 titled “Decent Work for Domestic Workers” and Recommendation No. 201, both of which require countries to take steps to improve working conditions for domestic workers.
The policy also complies with an existing High Court judgment of 2010, which stresses the inclusion of clearly specified provisions restricting the employment of child domestic workers and calls for the registration of domestic workers, decent work conditions, and monitoring of domestic workers employment conditions. The policy was formulated after detailed consultation and debate among the NGOs working for rights of domestic workers, national trade unions and MoLE.
The draft domestic workers policy consists of 16 provisions. These provisions include the rights and duties of domestic workers, their employers, and the government. Having first given a background on the plight of domestic workers in Bangladesh, the policy then talks about the existing legal vacuum and rationalizes the need for a national policy on domestic workers in Bangladesh. It then specifies the scope of policy implementation, describes the objectives and goals of the policy, and defines the key terms and the stakeholders under the policy.
Minimum age of the domestic workers should be 14 years for light works. Only workers above 18 years would be eligible for heavy works. In order to appoint someone of 12 years of age, the employer must negotiate the terms with a legal guardian of the child, under the presence of a third party witness. The arrangement must include responsibilities, date of appointment, preoccupation, leaves and breaks, accommodation, diet, keep aside enough time and scope for his or her study and clothing allowance.
Most importantly, the policy recognizes the services of the domestic workers as 'labour' to ensure their overall welfare and bring them within the ambit of the protection and rights such status entails. The policy ensures the protection, welfare, leisure, holidays, religious freedoms, regular training, fixed work hours, and entertainment of domestic workers as well as maintaining a congenial and decent working environment for them.
The policy stipulates 16-week maternity leave for pregnant female domestic workers. According to the policy, the employer has to distribute work hours ensuring proper rest, sleep, entertainment and leaves. All domestic workers must be entitled to a healthy and safe space for sleeping while they are off duty. When in sickness, the workers must be abstained from workload and the employer will have to pay for all necessary treatments. The employer will be under the obligation to compensate for any accidents, including treatment expenses.
Salaries of the domestic workers would be determined upon mutual agreement between the employer and the domestic workers. However, the employer is obligated to pay the wage for a month within seven working days of the next month. The policy stipulates that the minimum wage for part-time workers should be set based on the nature of their work nature. Any clothing or other forms of support have to be excluded from the salary arrangement.
Without any special circumstance, the domestic workers and the employer will have to notify the other party, one month prior to their resignation or dismissal. Immediate termination will come with a month’s salary from the employer.
Protection Against Abuse
There is an absolute prohibition on subjecting the workers to any kind of oppression, indecent behaviour or physical and mental torture. In fact, the policy has specific provisions of punishment under the existing laws including Penal Code and the Women and Child Repression Prevention Act in case of physical and mental torture. The government will take full responsibility for any cases filed over harassment and/or violence, and the perpetrators will be brought to justice. The policy provides for an employer to compensate a domestic worker for any accident causing injuries to them while working in the house.
Obligations of Domestic Workers
As per the policy, the employer can terminate the contract and take legal action if the domestic workers causes harassment, physical or mental violence on children, ill or old people of the employer’s family. Local police stations may document photos and details of domestic workers when they are appointed, if the employer deems it necessary. The employer can file a General Diary (G.D) with local police if the domestic workers leave without any notice and will be able to take legal measures if the help flees after stealing money or properties.
The policy lays down the requirement registration of domestic workers in city corporations, municipalities, unions and in cantonment areas. City councilors, municipality mayors and councilors, union chairmen and members will register them in their areas, while an executive officer or an officer appointed by him will do the job in cantonments areas. Their offices will prepare and preserve the database on the domestic workers.
Monitoring and Evaluation
The Ministries of Labour and Employment, Home Affairs, Social Welfare, Women and Children Affairs will provide clear and concise regulations regarding harassment and violence issues. They will give instructions to the law-enforcement agencies for proper implementation of the policy. The policy specifies the role of the MoLE and calls for a competent government authority to monitor, evaluate, and enforce compliance with the domestic workers' policy. It also recommends more awareness campaigns by the government through the use of media advertisement, leaflet circulation etc. An awareness campaign would be launched to educate the workers regarding the legal, regulatory and policy protection, rights and obligations they are subject to.
As shown in other areas of social justice, the Awami League government will not stop at only formulating the policy, but is also committed to implementing the provisions of the policy to ensure their welfare in a sustainable manner. To that end, a law will be formulated soon based on the policy. Additionally, the government plans to forms several committees comprising of local representatives ad civil society throughout the country to prevent repression of domestic helps. Domestic workers will also get financial help from the Labour Welfare Foundation of the government and they will be brought under several social safety programmes, including insurance and compensation. In addition, a 'help line' would be introduced for the domestic workers.