Equal Pay/Fair Wage

India's Home-Based Workers Fall Through Safety Net

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Work-from-home women in India are often trapped in physically draining, sometimes hazardous, tasks that pay far less than the minimum daily wage. Labor activists are lobbying the government for change.

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Seasonal, Part-Time Work

Much of the work was seasonal and part-time. The women, on average, worked about 16 days a month and seven months a year. The rates for each piece remained the same for several years for 43 percent of the women, with 16 percent reporting higher rates. Forty-one percent said their rate had fallen and they felt helpless to demand higher payment for fear of losing the work altogether.

"The trouble is that we have no identity as home-based workers," says Kamala, who has been working to organize other female home-based workers in Delhi for five years. "Everybody pushes us around. The contractors, the suppliers, even the police. We spend our whole lives working like this. What happens when we are too frail to work? Who will support us then?"

Kamala says most of the home-based women are ignorant of their rights.

"They are just grateful that they get a little money without having to leave their homes. We are struggling to make them more aware, but it is a long and difficult process," she says.

The Unorganized Sector Worker's Social Security Act says social security should be provided, but makes no budgeting or implementation provisions. The one requirement of the 2008 law--setting up advisory state level boards to formulate social security and welfare policies--has not been implemented.

"How has this law helped the hundreds of thousands of women in home-based work?" asks Sundaraman of AIDWA. "There has been no attempt to set up the separate boards mandated by the act. There has not even been an attempt made by the government to enumerate them. Many of these women are performing highly hazardous activities, working with shards of glass and toxic chemicals. Who is looking at their health needs? A worst injustice than this--given the neo-liberal paradigm that marks India's economy today--is hard to imagine."

This article is adapted from one that was released by the Women's Feature Service. For more articles on women's issues log on to: http://www.wfsnews.org .


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Pamela Philipose is the director of Women's Feature Service in New Delhi. Previously she was senior associate editor with The Indian Express, a leading national daily in India.

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