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Punjab Domestic Workers Act Remains Unenforced Due To Absence Of Governing Body

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Sara A. writes about the Punjab Domestic Workers Act which is yet to be enforced because the Governing Body required to implement the measures under it has not been formed even a year after the bill was signed into law.

A year after becoming a law, Punjab’s Domestic Workers Act is still not operational, because no Governing Body has been established under it. This Body, which is yet to be formed, is supposed to detail the procedure and rules under which grievances of domestic workers can be remedied. The body would also push to get the minimum wages of all categories of domestic workers notified. But the government has not done the needful and the law remains unimplemented due to absence of the Governing Body.

In 2019, after seven years of lobbying, the Punjab Assembly passed the historic Punjab Domestic Workers Act. The bill was prepared with the input of domestic workers’ representatives. This Act covers both female and male employees of all households in the province – including cooks, cleaners, gardeners, drivers, and personal assistance workers, amongst all other types of labour found in households.

It seeks to establish and protect the rights of workers to obtain a decent wage and secure a few benefits which otherwise there is no guarantee that they might obtain – like a minimum wage, health card, paid leave days, and maternity leave. Needless to say, such a piece of legislation is sorely needed, as Pakistan’s labour laws do not cover domestic workers.

They are not considered as having any rights or dignity when employed in a household, despite being frequently treated as the cheapest and the most expendable type of labour.

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It is not uncommon for employers to offer 2000 PKR to a woman to come daily to the house to wash dishes, or 3000 to wash the floors. A full-time child worker in a household, which is not uncommon even in the posh DHA, would earn at most 4000 PKR a month. There is no recognition in such contracts that this is exhausting manual and emotional labour, and that the compulsion to come daily or live-in full time, with no leave facilities, makes it a very tough and thankless job. Worst of all, there is no recognition that these small amounts of money in exchange for labour do not permit the survival of those earning it.

But given the shortage of factory and other jobs in the cities, as well as extreme poverty in the countryside, women, men and children have no option but to accept such offers. And if they are lucky, they try and work in multiple households to obtain enough income to run their own households.

In the year 2018, the living wage for a family of four persons in Lahore has been calculated to be 39,000 PKR. At these rates, how many families even with two workers, actually meet this? The Act by intending to set a wage floor could begin to attempt to make two-earner families reach an income by which they might survive at best. Presently, one needs three earners in a household to make ends meet.

The Act is probably conceived as a nuisance legislation or a non-workable Act, given its attempt to regulate matters inside a household. The middle class is too used to running governing its own household with no oversight or accountability. How many people even know that such an act has been passed? No domestic worker that we surveyed had heard of it.

Is the passage of the Act then just an attempt to look good on paper, for an external audience? Or now that it has been passed, can we collectively demand that it be made operational, that representatives of domestic workers unions be appointed or elected to sit on the Governing Body, that a living wage and not just a minimum wage be the benchmark by which wages are calculated, that the pay rates also change with inflation or that subsidies be given to domestic workers on essential items. Is it not time to finally turn our gaze on the millions of workers in this society who hold up the middle class and elite on their shoulders and whose backs are being daily broken in the effort?

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