In the wake of the ill-treatment meted out to Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade in the US, the Centre has sought details of salaries paid to all Indian staff, including domestic help, in US consulates.
The attempt is to find out if there’s any violation of rules on the minimum wages front. However, India may not be able to corner the US here as there is no fixed minimum wages for Indian domestic help.
Several NGOs and domestic workers’ groups have been fighting to bring domestic help under the minimum wages Act, 1948, for years. Currently, only two states – Kerala and Karnataka – have specified minimum wages for domestic help. However, they are yet to notify it. Then, there’s the national policy on domestic workers. Though formulated in 2012 by the Union labour ministry, it again has not been notified.
In Maharashtra, the labour commissionerate has recommended inclusion of domestic workers in the scheduled employment list. Inclusion in this list would make them eligible for minimum wages. This list includes 68 categories of workers, such as those in the rubber and hotel industries. Domestic workers do not figure in there. “Only after the state includes domestic workers in the scheduled employment category, can we decide their minimum wages,” said SB Vanalkar, secretary of the advisory committee on labour commission in the state.
Since domestic workers are not covered under the minimum wages Act, 1948, it will be difficult to draw a line between work and exploitation. Even if the state wants to include domestic workers in this list, it’s not going to be a smooth affair.
Arvind Kumar, principal secretary, state labour department, says the process will take time as Indian domestic help work on a per-hour basis. “Indian domestic workers don’t work for eight hours at a place. They work at different places on a per-hour basis. They cannot be considered as daily wage workers. So, bringing them under the scheduled employment list and fixing a minimum wage for them will take time,” he said.
Avisha Kulkarni, a social worker, who has been working for the welfare of domestic workers, said, “Government schemes for domestic workers are not sufficient. They should be brought under the minimum wages Act, 1948.”
Employment agencies providing domestic workers to foreign consulates and their families say foreign diplomats pay cooks, cleaners, babysitters and drivers very well. “For employment at homes of US consular officials, I would charge Rs25,000 for an English-speaking cook and 30,000 for a driver,” said George Stafford of Happy Homecare, a Mumbai-based agency which provides babysitters, cooks, cleaners and drivers.
Human Helping Hands, another agency, says there is no comparison between the salaries paid by his Indian and foreign clients. “We recently placed a babysitter for an Indian working with the Australian embassy for Rs10,000. In case of foreign nationals employed there, the price would have been higher as different factors comes into play,” said Vimal Mehta, founder of the agency.
Sources close to US and British consular officials said most domestic help placements take place through references. “In most cases, a governess is paid around Rs30,000, drivers paid Rs25,000 plus overtime and cooks and cleaners in the range of Rs20,000,” said the source.