New Delhi: The Union government on Monday signalled its intent to bring domestic workers within the purview of a formal policy, entitling them to a minimum wage and social security benefits normally extended to formal workers.

Not only will it accelerate formalization of the Indian economy, it could potentially benefit the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance, especially in urban areas which have large pools of domestic workers.

The labour ministry put out the broad contours of the policy for public discussion. The four key takeaways are recognition of these people as “workers"; guaranteeing them a minimum wage; permitting unionization; and devising a dispute resolution mechanism.

The aim is to “explicitly and effectively expand the scope of applicable legislations, policies and schemes to grant domestic workers rights that are enshrined in laws for other category of workers, including minimum wage, equal remunerations etc", the labour ministry said in a circular.

A labour ministry official said that with growing urbanization, the allied economy created by domestic workers cannot be ignored. “Lakhs of people helping the urbanization process... should not be neglected and need to be given a respectable status and salary. A policy to formalize these workers is a requirement of the time," the official said on condition of anonymity.

As per the 2011 census, 31% of Indians were living in urban areas. The exact number of domestic workers is not known as they are largely a floating, informal working population.

As per the proposals, on which the ministry has sought public comment beginning 16 October, the government is keen to set up an “institutional mechanism which provides for social security cover, fair terms of employment, grievance redressal and dispute resolution".

The policy proposal also seeks to allow these workers the right to form unions.

As part of the social security benefits, the proposal emphasizes that domestic workers need to get health insurance, maternity benefits and old-age pensions as part of “existing and upcoming" social security measures of both state and central governments.

However, the discussion paper is not clear on details such as what role the employers will have in ensuring social security benefits and by when the ministry wants to formally implement the proposal.

“After what happened in a Noida apartment cluster, it is very important to have a formal regulation for domestic workers to avoid future class conflict. A domestic worker is a lifeline for thousands of city dwellers and if central or a state government comes up with a policy with dos and don’ts and salary structure, it will be beneficial to both families and these workers," said Moses P., a Noida-based resident.

In July, domestic workers stormed a gated condominium in Noida, on the outskirts of New Delhi, vandalized property, entered an apartment and ransacked it. They were protesting against a female domestic worker’s suspected detention by the apartment owner who had accused her of theft. The worker was eventually found in the premises of the apartment complex.

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