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Maids cannot be denied entry at ‘elite’ clubs in Pakistan

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

According to the Labour Force Survey 2014-15, there are 0.464 million domestic workers in the country. Of these, 0.1 million are live-in domestic workers while 0.364 million are either day based or task specific.

LAHORE: Now on, domestic workers, especially maids, will not be denied entry at elite leisure clubs along with their employer’s family in Pakistan as Prime Minister Imran Khan has lifted a ban on the same. 

The announcement was made by Minister of State for Interior Shehryar Afridi on twitter.

Afridi, @ShehryarAfridi1, tweeted: “Symbols of elitism and colonial mind-set will be removed. PMIK has ordered to remove the ban on entry of maids/servants in elite clubs i.e. starting from Isb [Islamabad] club. Rather we should have been thankful to them for carrying our weights. Abolish boundaries made in name of wealth, colour etc.”

Domestic work is part of the huge informal sector (around 73% of total Pakistani economy, as indicated by official sources) and thus the existing labor laws are not applicable to this sector.

There are no clear estimates of the total number of domestic workers in the country, however, according to a study, every fourth household in the country hires domestic worker and majority of these workers is females (especially children). Moreover, according to an ILO Study, around 4-10% of total employment in developing countries is in the domestic work sector.

Prior to the decision, signboards restricting maids’ and other domestic helpers’ entry could be seen at the gates of ‘elite’ leisure clubs.

Khan passed the order while chairing a meeting on the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) Plus status of Pakistan, according to The News International, an English language newspaper in Pakistan.

During the meeting, the premier also directed authorities concerned to eradicate bonded labour in Pakistan and urged that children from low income backgrounds must be educated, according to Dawn, an English daily in the country.

Recently domestic workers’ rights in Pakistan have been a topic of concern. This month, a 16-year-old house maid was brutally abused and murdered by her employers in Lahore, which led to an outcry on social media. Subsequently, #JusticeForUzma trended on Twitter.

However, this was not an isolated case. Over the years, a number of abuse cases involving domestic workers have surfaced in the country.

Domestic work employs a large part of female workers. The two most common types are child domestic labor and bonded/forced labor. Child domestic labor is when a child (under the age of 14 years) is employed to perform a work in household. 

According to an ILO study (2004), there are 264,000 child domestic workers in Pakistan. Most of these children are employed as bonded/forced laborers working under the debt bondage. These children or women are working to pay off the debt accrued by their parents or family members.

Broadly, they can be divided in two main groups: live-in and live-out (day based and task specific). According to the Labour Force Survey 2014-15, there are 0.464 million domestic workers in the country. Of these, 0.1 million are live-in domestic workers while 0.364 million are either day based or task specific.

As per ILO considerations, this type of domestic work, where a child is working under debt bondage, working for long hours, during the night and is unreasonably confined to the premises of an employer, is the worst form of child labor.

The labor laws mention domestic workers only twice. The Provincial Employees Social Security Ordinance 1965 (applicable in Balochistan, ICT, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab) requires an employer to provide health care (including maternity care) to the full time domestic workers (Section 55-A). Similar provision is also found in  Sindh Employees’ Social Security Act 2016 (section 59).  The Minimum Wages Ordinance of 1961 (applicable in Balochistan, ICT, and Punjab) also includes domestic workers in the definition of workers however government has not notified the minimum wages as applicable to these workers under this law. No such provision is found in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Minimum Wages Act 2013 and Sindh Minimum Wages Act 2015. 

The first bill on domestic workers – Domestic Workers (Employment Rights) Act 2013 – in order to bring them under the jurisdiction of labour laws, was drafted and presented in Senate in 2013. It was again submitted in 2015 and has been passed by the Senate in 2017. The Bill is now under discussion by the relevant National Assembly Committee. The Bill aims to protect the rights of the domestic workers, to regulate their employment and conditions of service and to provide them social security, safety, health facility and welfare. It provides domestic workers with all those rights available to other formal sector workers and creates a special domestic workers welfare fund. 

Punjab has already announced a domestic workers policy in 2015 which provides for establishment of a Domestic Workers Registration Authority to register worker however no such authority has been constituted yet. 

According to this law, domestic servant is “any person working whole-time in connection with the work of any household for any consideration, whether in cash or in kind”.

This law requires an employer, employing a domestic worker, to provide his domestic servant with full medical care at his own cost. However, there is no mechanism provided in this law to check as to whether an employer is following this requirement or not.