South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

Human rights activists working on the issue

Published in The Dhaka Tribune on Oct. 26 by Udisa Islam ::

Lack of legal protection has left domestic workers in the country vulnerable to abuse by their employers, most of which remain undocumented and, in many cases, result in their untimely death.

Human rights activists working on the issue claimed that the situation would not improve unless the government took an active role to establish the rights of domestic workers.

The process to protect said rights started when the Ministry of Labour and Employment prepared the draft of Domestic Workers’ Protection and Welfare Policy 2010, but little has been done since then.

At a public meeting in April, Labour Secretary Mikail Shipar said the ministry was preparing to form a law in this regard.

“We have finished the work and will take the necessary steps immediately. Every domestic worker will have an identity card and they may enjoy a day off every week. The law will also protect their rights to proper wage,” he said.

But senior officials at the ministry told the Dhaka Tribune on Wednesday that they were still working on the policy, not the law.

On July 1 this year, a High Court bench issued a ruling asking the government to explain why its inaction in implementing policies related to domestic workers’ rights and child labour should not be declared illegal, and why it should not be directed to take effective measures to do so.

Seeking anonymity, a senior official at the ministry told the Dhaka Tribune that the ministry had asked stakeholders to give their opinions regarding the policy by October 15, but no one did.

“We are still waiting for their opinions on the policy,” he said.

Syed Sultan Uddin Ahmed, assistant executive director of Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies, said: “Domestic workers perform a variety of jobs at their employers’ households all day. But there is no law or inspection system for them. We cannot survey how many people are involved in this profession as they have no registration and identity card.

“As they are not counted under the Labour Law, they are deprived of different rights and suffer abuse,” he said.

Rokeya Rafiq, activist from Karmojibi Nari, a rights organisation for working women, said: “The number of domestic workers is rising, but no effective steps have been taken to protect their rights. We need an act in which we can establish domestic workers as professionals and enable them to get justice in court.”

Violence against domestic workers on the rise

Violence against domestic workers has increased across the country in recent times. In the past few days, there have been reports of three domestic workers dying in the capital’s Banani, Mohammadpur and Siddheswari areas, two of whom reportedly jumped off building rooftops.

According to a survey by the Domestic Workers’ Rights Network, at least 567 domestic workers died from unnatural causes between 2001 and 2013 in Dhaka city alone.

In most cases, the abusing employers escape justice. In the cases that the victims file cases with police, they are forced to withdraw the cases by the accused in exchange of money.

The number of child domestic workers are quite high as well – a total of 420,000 children aged 6-17 years were domestic workers in Bangladesh in 2007, according to a baseline survey by Unicef and International Labour Organisation.

Findings of another study titled “Study on the Situation of Domestic Child Workers in Dhaka City” revealed that about 17% of the child domestic workers were sexually abused in the capital, while 83% suffered physical abuse, in the hands of their employers’ families. The study covered 849 domestic child workers in three wards of Dhanmondi, Mohammadpur and Mirpur areas during August, September and October last year.

Rights activists said that only a law will provide the rights and security to the domestic workers, and access to justice in case of abuse and violation of rights.

It should be noted that Bangladesh has not ratified the ILO Convention 189, which puts emphasis on specific work hours, minimum wage, and weekends for domestic workers.