Muthukani Murugesan told her employer that she was sick so that she could attend a rally with hundred of other domestic workers in southern India. Together, they demanded a living wage and better working conditions.
47-year-old Murugesan said her wages had increased by just 3,000 Indian rupees ($47) in the last decade. Thomson Reuters Foundation explains that these meager salaries have forced many workers to take out loans:
“They don’t like me taking days off. But the bigger problem is that most of us here have debts to pay off. These are loans we were forced to take – for weddings and schooling – because we don’t earn enough,” said Murugesan.
India’s rapid urbanisation and the growing numbers of women who go out to work have spurred demand for domestic workers. But work conditions and rewards remain patchy at best, renewing demands for weekly days off, maternity benefits and a pension, as well as wages that keep pace with inflation.
Deepa Ebenezer, a researcher on domestic work at the Madras Institute of Development Studies added that domestic work is still seen as “work done for the love of the home. And so the work has no value and this directly impacts the wages of maids.”
Part of the issue is that India does not legal protections for domestic workers. Current legislation like the National Policy for Domestic Workers is still awaiting approval, leaving the country’s 50 million domestic workers unprotected.
Josephine Valaramathi of the National Domestic Workers Movement says that pensions must be increased if domestic workers are to escape overwhelming debt.
“Most of our members are ageing quickly but continue to work because of debts. We are demanding an increase in pension, which is a measly 1,000 rupees today. Women are paying off loans of up to 500,000 rupees($7,760),” she said.