June 16, 2022 | Chennai, Tamil Nadu
(Report compiled by Suhasini Udayakumar, Prajnya intern)
The Penn Thozhilalarkal Sangam (PTS), consisting of more than 50,000 informal workers from Chengalpattu, Chennai, Kanchipuram, and Tiruvalluvar districts, commemorated International Domestic Workers’ Day 2022 on June 16 at Valluvarkottam, Chennai, with a protest aimed at the Government of Tamil Nadu.
PTS’ asks from the state have remained firm and consistent: the creation of a separate law for the rights of domestic workers to ensure job security, minimum wage and social security benefits; ratification of the ILO convention 189; holding of a tripartite convention to discuss the TN labour codes and rules for domestic workers; formation of a Local Complaints Committee (LCC) for domestic workers at the corporation, municipality, ward, and panchayat levels; reduction of the retirement age of all unorganised manual workers to 55 and an increase of the pension amount to INR 3000 per month; a collection of 3% on house tax for welfare purposes; adjustment of white-board bus timings and frequency to benefit domestic workers (7-8.30 AM and 2-5 PM), and representation of women domestic workers on the Minimum Wage Committee, and other labour welfare boards and bodies.
The protest, spearheaded by PTS and Garment and Fashion Workers Union (GAFWU) President Sujada Mody and General Secretary Palani Bharathi, saw the presence of feminist leaders such as V. Geetha and Dr. K. Kalpana, and long-time PTS changemakers such as Dhanalakshmi, Vijayalakshmi, Pushparani, Prema, and Latha.
V. Geetha, one of the country’s most prominent feminist writers and activists emphasised the staggering double burden borne by women (and even more so by domestic workers), the urgent need to meet their demands for fundamental rights, and the power of continued protests.
Dr. K. Kalpana traced the history of women’s work, pointing out women’s invisibilised role in the industrial revolution, and the economic stability that men and the state continue to enjoy purely due to women’s contribution through unpaid and unrelenting domestic and care work. She highlighted the role that domestic worker unions play: they were the first to demand compensation for domestic work, thus kindling the realisation that women must not perform such work for free, be it at home or outside. These unions send out a message to the world that domestic and care work are skilled, essential, and dignified labour. Dr. Kalpana concluded that women must work together to eliminate the stigma associated with such work and raise awareness of the rights to which every woman/domestic worker is entitled.
GAFWU General Secretary Palani Bharathi reprimanded the government’s WIEGO Policy Brief No.23 which set a minimum wage of Rs. 371 per hour for “unskilled” domestic work, stating that all domestic work needs unique and special skills. She also asserted the importance of reducing domestic workers’ retirement age to 55, especially in light of recent pandemic conditions.
PTS President Sujata applauded the protest as a celebration of the 11th anniversary of the Union. She discussed the initiative and unity demonstrated by PTS members, commending them for the respect, recognition and empowerment they have championed for all domestic workers. She stressed the power of continued dialogues with the government and urged members to use benefits wisely, give feedback, and be fully involved in governmental decisions.
Other PTS members such as Dhanalakshmi, Vijayalakshmi, Pushparani, Prema, and Latha motivated their comrades to take pride in their work; to be bold and fearless in voicing their demands for fair pay, bonuses, work hours, leave policies, insurance, perks, benefits etc., and to put up a united front through and through.
This resolute protest and observance of International Domestic Workers’ Day 2022 was a true embodiment of domestic workers’ strength, solidarity, and determination, and a sustained bid for structured work policies that would protect the state’s domestic workers.