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A glimmer of hope for domestic workers

February 27, 2008

If you live in Bangalore you will have to pay your domestic worker Rs 450/- a month (11.3 USD) for an hour’s work a day (Rs 15/- per hour or .37 USD) – this is the new law in Karnataka. This is the minimum wage that the state government has set for domestic workers. Karnataka is one of the two states in India (Kerala is the other) to have a minimum wage for domestic workers and this Rs 450/- is simply an increase from the Rs 299/- per hour that existed earlier.

There are three aspects to this:
1) Is Rs 15/- an hour or Rs 450/- a month (one hour’s work everyday) fair and just?
2) Can it be implemented?
3) What about the rest of India?

Let me address (3) first. Although India has the Minimum Wages Act, oddly it does not include domestic workers, although there is a provision in the Act (Section 27) which “empowers appropriate Governments to extend the application of the Act to any other employment considered proper.” That’s what Karnataka, a pioneering state in this regard, has done. Other states have obviously not thought it necessary to include domestic workers, who are largely unorganized and exploited in India.

Ironically though, the Indian government has introduced rules for the recruitment of female Indian domestic workers into the UAE, including a minimum wage of 1100 dirhams per month ($299.5) 11953.045 INR. These new rules for female domestic workers came into effect on February 20 this year.

On the domestic front, the good news is that a draft bill has been prepared by the central government and when this Bill becomes law “a district board will be set up which will not only fix their wages but also settle disputes and conduct raids.”
So this means that all states in India will have to wake up.

Now to the burning question (1):
Is the Rs 450/- monthly (for one hour’s work daily), which amounts to Rs 3600/- (for 8 hours work daily) fixed by the Karnataka government a fair wage?
Let’s first see what the Minimum Wage Act is all about. Well, it has not set out a minimum wage in rupee terms but just stipulated that the wage be a living wage to be decided by each state. Certain norms have been laid out including that of calorie requirements, yards of cloth per family and so on. The Act also stipulates that minimum wage rates are to be revised keeping in mind inflation. Additionally, the guidelines laid down for the minimum wage by the 15th Indian Labour Conference (ILC) and the Supreme Court suggest that a minimum wage for 8 hours of work should be high enough to cover all the basic needs of the worker, her/his spouse and two children.

Different rates are fixed for different industries. For domestic workers it’s Rs 450/- (in Karnataka) and well, we immediately know that the Rs 450/- is not sufficient as a living wage. A study undertaken in Bangalore reveals the average monthly expenditure of a domestic worker’s family living in a slum in Bangalore is Rs 5,189, out of which Rs 1,959 is spent on food, Rs 817 on loan repayments, Rs 555 as rent, and the rest for other needs. This is not counting untoward medical expenses and educational needs.

In any case, Rs 3600/- a month (for 8 hours work everyday) is a hypothetical amount as it is rare for domestic workers in India to actually get Rs 3600/- a month or Rs 450/- an hour. They will quite likely get about half that amount. We are talking about part-time workers here, not live-ins.

The only way a domestic worker can get by even if she gets Rs 3600/- a month is if hers is a supplementary income and/or she already has living quarters.

The consequences
Poor wages reinforce the vicious cycle of poverty. There is no money to provide nutritious food to children or educate them. This forces kids to drop out of school to supplement the family income…and the vicious circle is complete.

Coming to my question number 2, as to whether laying down a decent wage for domestic workers is workable…well, the problem is the demand/supply equation. There is a large supply of cheap labour and this is what keeps the wages of the domestics low. Therefore the rules would be difficult to implement. However, as domestic workers unions get stronger, employers may be forced to shell out the required amounts. There is no doubt that domestic workers movements are getting stronger in metros…and the writing is on the wall.

From the point of view of employers
Can employers afford that Rs 450/- a month for an hour’s work?
Take an example of an average middle income family with a monthly income of Rs 10,000/- which employs a maid for say one and a half hours a day. The pay-out will amount Rs 675/- monthly, working out to be 5-6 percent of total income of the family. It’s not as if the maid’s salary will be unaffordable…the question is whether any family would even want to give this amount to a domestic worker. The situation now is that people are used to paying low salaries. Those who earn upwards of Rs 15,000 can certainly afford to pay…but again the question arises as to whether people will be willing to pay. Generally there is a reluctance, so used have we got to domestic slaves workers .

Another issue is that minimum wages will tend to differ from state to state…why in Nagaland the rate is only Rs 25/- per day (8 hours work daily which works out to be Rs 750 a month) while in Kerala it is Rs 134 per day which works out to be more than Rs 4000/- a month for 8 hours work daily, assuming that the worker gets Sunday as a paid holiday (This is not for domestic workers, but overall labour). It will be a long time before any kind of equity will happen between various states, but once domestic labour is treated like any other labour, it will be a big step forward. They have a long struggle ahead, but once domestic workers become recognized as labour, they will get the respect they deserve and more money too.

Related Reading: Plight of child domestic workers
Gap between the poor and the rich in India
Let’s make the poor richer

(photograph is by me and copyrighted)

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35 Comments leave one →
  1. February 27, 2008 11:24 pm

    With modern domestic appliances like washing machines, dish washers and vacuum cleaners available at affordable price range, it is better to avoid domestic workers if possible. Most of the crimes at home( theft to murder) are committed by them or with their support. In fact police advices to keep the photograph and address details of the domestic workers for safety.

  2. Yuva permalink
    February 27, 2008 11:35 pm

    atleast one thing for sure- bangalorian(non-IT) middle class was able afford house maid even that is out of reach for them now…

    I agree, you will find that the well to do will be able to afford maids while the middle class families will have to make do either without one, or keep one to do just one heavy job which they are unable to do. – Nita.

  3. February 28, 2008 12:01 am


    This is a great article that analyses things from a broad perspective.

    From what I have heard,domestic workers (and other labourers) from India are exploited in the UAE (and other Gulf countries) because of the fact that our government does not lay down strict rules for their welfare.On the other hand,domestic workers and other labourers from the Philippines get a better deal because their government insists on such rules.It is good that the Indian government has taken a leaf out of the Filipinos’ rule book.

    And yes,if the government can lay down rules for Indian workers in other countries,similar rules should be applied here as well.The Karnataka government’s move is a step in the right direction.Other states should emulate Karnataka.

    I feel really sad to read about the plight of the domestic workers who are usually women with children.Treating them as workers (and not as bonded labourers or slaves) and giving them their labour’s worth would go a long way in making life better for everyone.

    Raj, it’s not surprising that our govt. is late in helping Indian domestic workers in the UAE. They neglect it here! I think we should have our domestic laws in place first! – Nita.

  4. wishtobeanon permalink
    February 28, 2008 3:02 am

    Nice post, Nita, this one, and the Railway budget one!

    Thanks wishtobeanon. The posts took a long time to write!
    p.s. also I like my emotional and freeflow writing posts a lot better than articles like these. It’s those posts which are appreciated the most (I get emails from readers often, those who are shy to comment) as they are creative and 100 percent original. Also, finally every writer wants to relate to people and it’s originality and writing from the heart which does that. Sure, my researched posts mean more hard work in collection of data, arranging it and then writing it out in a clear format, and also thinking out a peg for it, but that’s a job that any clearthinking rational and hardworking journalist can do! Note the difference between journalist and writer!
    p.s. that’s why I am very very proud of my movie reviews!

  5. February 28, 2008 4:01 am

    I guess standard of living should be an important factor. If I recall correctly, while in Delhi and in Mumbai, (8 and 2 years earlier, respectively) the wages the domestic help recd. was far in excess of the minimum 450. If you paid your maid 450 a month in mumbai, she is quite likely to go insane with laughter…

    Having said that, the exploitation of underage labor is probably a lot more critical, since it is a supplement income and hence (worker) families are a lot more acceptable to a reduced wage.

  6. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    February 28, 2008 6:35 am


    A truly outstanding post! In the seven months that I have been visiting this blog, I cannot recall anything comparable to this for comprehensiveness, rigour and balance of perspective.

    Just one point on which I would like clarification (your link to the SJS study does not provide it):

    //A study undertaken in Bangalore reveals the average monthly expenditure of a domestic worker’s family living in a slum in Bangalore is Rs 5,189, out of which Rs 1,959 is spent on food, Rs 817 on loan repayments, Rs 555 as rent, and the rest for other needs.//

    This misses out critical data such as average household size, average no. of earners per household, and the proportion of monthly income spent on FUEL. In the lowest decile of urban workers, the proportion of household income spent on food+fuel can be as high as 90%. If the households in the Bangalore study are spending as much as 37.75% on food (and assuming that they spend a roughly equivalent amount on fuel), they are somewhat better off than those at the bottom of the pyramid.

    Moving on to the broader picture, law or no law, employment as domestics IN THE METROS has certainly been getting better in recent years from the worker’s point of view. Demand clearly outstrips supply, and the employer who cannot give the domestic a minimally decent deal is in for hard times.

    In the old feudal system, salaries were exploitative but there were several other benefits — including assorted bonuses in kind, help from the employer in times of emergency etc. — which made the domestic worker’s life tolerable.

    With the passing of this feudal order (which still survives in a few old rich families, though) the system became more exploitative and inhuman. And the worst offender would usually be the well-to-do housewife employer who had lots of time on her hands and not much to occupy her mind.

    Your post reflects a trend which, though perhaps not as well studied before, has been in evidence, at least in Mumbai, ever since nuclear families in which both husband and wife go out to work started becoming normative, and feudal networks started eroding. Increasingly life became dependent on domestic help, whose reliability could be assured only if the employer behaved.

    However imperfectly, the improvement in bargaining capacity of the informal sector working class represents an empowerment of that class in general, and its women in particular. This is a very welcome development.

    Vivek, my favorite posts are my emotional ones, as there is more creativity involved there. I also manage to get more people to relate to them (after all isn’t that what any writer wants?) But amongst my researched articles, I like my articles on the police force the best. – Nita.

  7. February 28, 2008 7:23 am

    Nita, this is a complex and important issue that you have raised. There are too many variables here, especially given how unorganized this sector is.

    Given that you have already discussed this issue from the point of view of the domestic help, I have another perspective here and was wondering if your readers have faced similar issues:

    My parents, both retired government pensioners, live in Bangalore. Finding a trustworthy domestic help who can work to their satisfaction has been a trying task for them. I once suggested that they opt for agencies that provide maid services, but they say it is way too expensive.

    So they have to depend on word of mouth and neighbours to find help.

    Now, when I say “expensive”, I must mention that they are already paying close to Rs 1,000 per month for about 2 hours of work per day. For every new maid they have hired, they have raised the salary.

    But paying more doesn’t guarantee satisfaction — either work-wise or attendance-wise. This is a problem that everyone around her (most of the people in the colony are retired government employees) are facing.

    Contrary to the popular belief that the supply is more than the demand, people there feel that the demand is far more, especially with young singles and couples flooding the city’s IT sector, are ready to pay anything to get domestic services.
    I have a couple of (young) friends living in Bangalore who have had similar experiences with domestic help.
    The turnover is really high.

    Having heard about maid woes in Bangalore over and over, I think there are certain issues we need to deal with while settling minimum wages. This has to be a multi-pronged approach:

    a) Domestic help must be an organized sector that requires accountability from both the employees and the employer. While the employees should have the right to refuse work at houses that have histories of abuse, the employer has the right to have a prospective help’s background checked as well.

    b) They must be adults. That is the only way we can prevent children from being used (and abused) as domestic helps. I don’t include 15 or 16-year-olds in the adult category. Adult means adult. 18 at least.

    c) There has to be a way to settle, before hiring, how much can be realistically achieved in an hour. Otherwise, how will anyone be able to establish if a maid/domestic help is slow (and hence the hours get extended) OR if the employer is piling on work? Somebody has to set reasonable standards.

    d) The employer has to be guaranteed a minimum level of service, while the employee must be guaranteed a certain pay and the number of offs that can be taken.
    The reason is, most of them work at multiple houses (naturally, they need the money). They need either rest periods, or ways to guarantee that they don’t overwork.

    My parents say the police have asked employers to notify every time they hire a new domestic help (apparently there have been several cases of domestic helps attacking old couples and then robbing them).
    But given the reputation of cops, most people fear harassment, both for themselves and their helps, especially if they are innocent.

    In short, we need a system – badly – that both employers and employees can go to. This seems ideal, but not impossible to work out.

    @Old Sailor: I doubt dishwashers are popular in India yet, what with the amount of energy they will consume. While we can afford to vacuum our carpeted houses in the West once a week or even less frequently, daily cleaning in India is essential, given the pollution around. Sometimes, that can get really strenuous and time consuming — especially for working couples and the elderly. It can be a real challenge even for stay-at-home moms. Even with both working partners helping out, it can be a drag.
    And if you have used a vacuum cleaner, you know that it’s not the most convenient way to clean an Indian house. Most of them are heavy and cumbersome.

    We still need domestic helps. But at the same time, this is a great opportunity for technology to get innovative. If desis can find a way to design cheap, energy-saving tools to help do stuff, I am sure most people will be happy not to employ help.

    Until that time — when cleaning robots, dependable child care, dependable elderly care, dependable nanny services, etc become a reality– we will have to continue to find ways to make domestic help work for both the parties.

    I am painfully aware that prejudice against domestic helps still exist. Many employers feel a sense of entitlement toward their services. But with the economy improving, I see tables turning, and that is a good thing. This is particularly the case in B’lore.

    Thanks Nita for discussing this issue! If you or any of your readers have information about good domestic help agencies, or of cool home-care technologies available in India, I am all ears 🙂


  8. February 28, 2008 8:15 am

    Old Sailor, yes crime is a constant fear and the solution is not to keep live-in help. As for part-time, women are safer to keep than men.

    Snigdha, I understand exactly what you mean. In Bangalore the demand (for good maids) does seem to outstrip supply and even though I lived there more than a decade ago, it was difficult to get a good maid. And when I did I had to be careful not to be too exacting. That’s the problem with domestic help…high quality work is not the norm with them. At the time I had small kids and was dependent and therefore just grinned and bore it, and I also had a few things stolen. But finally after a year I managed to get someone good, but I guess that must have got more difficult by now.
    Unfortunately, once a house sacks a maid, these maids tend to gang up together and often attempt to stop others from working at that house. I think the times (in metros) have come when one has to be excruciatingly tolerant towards maids. After so many years of experience now I have realised that it’s best to do the finishing touches oneself, rather than get after them. Many of them want to rush out and earn as much money in one day and therefore are not interested in quality work. The fact is that they are exceedingly poor and living on the edge. Expecting professional work from them hasn’t worked, at least not for me.
    I also think that it is an art, handling domestic help. I feel that any household wanting to retain them has not only to be tolerant , but will have to provide extra benefits like snacks, tea, clothes, medicines, sweet talk, give paid leave, sick leave and also pay them more than the average. But go overboard and the help will sit on one’s head. At work one at least deals with educated professionals, but at home one has to deal with illiterate people who have had a long history of being exploited (and can therefore become militant) and are more emotional than logical and few take pride in their work. Also they often live in inhuman conditions which causes high stress for them. Difficult to motivate them.
    Today I pay my maid Rs 1450/- for three hours of work even though there is no such law in Mumbai. I know those in south mumbai and malabar hill who pay more…but this is not the case all over mumbai.

    DD, I too have lived in Delhi but I would say the rates differ according to the area one lives.

    Thanks. I do not know the answer to your question about the expenditure of the family but I assumed that there are no transport costs as the family walks and that the family is one of about 5. Just assumptions, but I quoted the study more to give a general idea.
    As you say this exploitative structure (employers exploiting maids) is on the wane in big cities. In fact the tables are turning as the labour is getting militant. I think this is going to happen more and more until it reaches a peak and then things I hope will get more professional where even employers will have a right to demand their rights. Agencies say they provide this, but not all agencies are good, and most are very expensive. I think paying Rs 3000/- or so to a maid for a few hours work will become common in another decade or so and I think work quality will go up as this sector gets increasingly organised.
    Overall though exploitation of domestic help continues, even in metros, more so with live-in help, many of whom are children.

  9. February 28, 2008 8:55 am

    Nita, I don’t know why, but I’m finding the mathematical terminology that’s been used confusing and conflicting. For eg-

    [Rs 450/- a month for an hour’s work a day ]

    Are you saying that Rs. 450 for ((1 hr/day)*30 days)=Rs. 450 for 30 hours of work, (which means 450/30 hrs=Rs. 15/hr?)

    Then again,

    [Is Rs 450/- an hour fair and just?]

    Do you mean Rs. 450 for each hour’s of work? That amounts to Rs. 450*1 hr/day*30 days= Rs. (450*30)/ month= Rs. 13,500.

    Another case:

    [Rs 3600/- a month (for 8 hours work everyday)]

    Rs. 450*8 hours=3600 Rs. everyday (because you mention that it’s 8 hours everyday). So 8 hours everyday times 30 days= 240 hours per month.

    Total wage PER MONTH= 240 hours *Rs. 450/hr=Rs 108,00 per month and not Rs. 3600 per month.

    And so on and so forth. In all these mathematical calculations, I lost track of the original point.

    Sorry Ruhi if I was confusing. But what I meant by saying Rs 450/- a month for an hour’s work a day, is that, one hour of work a day for 30 days. Maybe I should have put it like that. But its Rs 3600 per month this way if you work for 8 hours a day. – Nita.
    p.s. your calculation of Rs 15/- an hour would be right but in India we don’t calculate it as per United States. Here no one calculates actual hourly rates, but yes we should as it gives us an idea as to how paltry the sum is.

  10. February 28, 2008 9:14 am

    Oh I get your point. So, it is Rs. 15/hour then. Even I started thinking that Rs. 450/hour is a little too much according to the Indian standard of living.

    I think you might want to change the wording here:

    There are three aspects to this:
    1) Is Rs 450/- an hour fair and just?
    2) Can it be implemented?
    3) What about the rest of India?

    and make it Rs. 15/hour or Rs. 450/month, for an hour’s work everyday.

    Coming back to the original topic, Indians have gotten used to cheap domestic help and this ruling, according to me, is a very good initiative taken. We need to respect our domestic helpers and put the dignity of labor right on to the map. Coughing up more money for their valuable service will help home owners appreciate them more. And Rs. 15/hour for so much of manual labor is nothing. Most of us will still be able to afford the luxury of hiring a helper. If people can’t afford it, then they are better of working by themselves- either buy more electrical appliances or do some physical work 😉 I can give you my example- I never used to cook/work when I was in India and after coming here, I had to do everything. Plus, I’ve started appreciating domestic help a lot. It’s time to do the same in India. Oh, in fact, I think we need to also include a minimum acceptable tip level in India. Nobody wants to pay tips in India and even if they pay, it’s not much.

    Ruhi, here people earning upwards of Rs 40,000 a month feel that paying their maid Rs 2000/- a month is too much! It’s a shame! And I agree with you entirely, people here should become less reliant of domestic help. People who can’t afford to pay a decent wage should do the work themselves. – Nita.

  11. February 28, 2008 9:22 am

    Ruhi, thanks to you, I have made a change in my post, for the better understanding of my international readers. And overall too! 🙂

  12. February 28, 2008 9:49 am

    Labor market is perfectly competitive. The optimal wage should therefore be determined by free market supply and demand. Artificial price ceilings like this can create labor shortage or unemployment issues. – This is ideally how this must happen.

    However I always get torn between ideal and real scenarios. I don’t know what was the reason to change the status quo when it came to domestic workers. As far as I think, the demand outstrips the supply and wages would have been determined automatically.

    Priyank, the demand outstrips supply only in the metros as far as I know but maybe I am wrong as there are not stats on this. But even in the metros, domestic workers are available, at least in Mumbai and Pune they are although I believe in Bangalore its getting hard. However the reason why this law has happened (it’s going to be in Maharashtra soon though the min wage for domestic workers will be set differently than in Karnataka) is because of large scale exploitation of domestic labour. – Nita.

  13. February 28, 2008 10:05 am

    Priyank, this is not a labor ceiling, but it’s a price “Floor”. So, supply will outstrip demand. There won’t be any labor shortage- instead there will be more supply of labor than demand and hence the unemployment.

  14. February 28, 2008 10:08 am


    check this out:

    Nita, You’re welcome 🙂 Glad to be of help. Probably introducing per hour labor rate for domestic help would be a good idea.

  15. February 28, 2008 3:07 pm

    Priyank highlights one important point.
    No one forces domestics to work (the so called exploitation). If they do, they should be behind bars. Obviously, if a woman works as a cleaner, it is because this is the best she can do. Again, obviously, she will find the best rates for her labors, and move whenever she gets a better deal. On the other hand, the homeowner will employ only someone who is reliable, honest and polite. If she is unable to find one, she would have to adjust to the existing lot till she finds a better one. I have been without a driver all my life because I don’t like having ’em. Recently, I have taken one. So, in summary, it all comes down to individual economic choice. It is pointless to expect a minimum wage to be decided by some babus sitting in Government buildings. The market tends to give the best rates, because it involves a willing buyer and a willing seller.
    As a society improves in its standard of living, poorer classes will find better deals in factories, malls and other businesses. The demand for maids will push up the rates. So, for liberal-leftists whose hearts bleed for the ‘exploited’ maids, I say, “Advocate free market capitalism. This problem will disappear, and even bite the exploitative rich home-owners by a labor shortage.”

    Rdoc, I see the logic of your argument and am tempted to agree with you. However, even in free market economies it is necessary to have min wage laws…Such laws are present in all free market/capitalist countries of the world. Now, imagine if there were no minimum wage laws at all in any industry. No owner would like to pay as we have so much cheap labour available and our country would be doomed to poverty for the rest of it’s days. Once domestic labour comes under the ambit of minimum wage laws, the situation of the workers will improve and in fact there will be a labour excess, as Ruhi’s link to the graph shows. It will work to the benefit of the employer. What will happen is exactly what a free market thinker like you would want. The best quality labour will command the min wage rates or higher, while the bad quality ones will fall by the wayside. People will reduce their hiring, use less help, and it’s the better quality labour which will get the jobs, become affluent, educate their children and so on… – Nita.

  16. Vipul permalink
    February 28, 2008 4:27 pm

    Hi Nita,

    Great post. its a busy day at work so will leave a quick comment –
    – Free market determining wages (as proposed by Rambodoc) is the best way to effectively beat the supply / demand complications. Everyone wins.
    – No ones mentioned this but what about the 3 letter devil – TAX !!? What percentage of the maids pay income taxes? They might not owe much, but are their earnings documented? Its one thing to protect them under the min wage regulations but this needs to be follwed by an equally important state function – collection of taxes …


    Thanks Vipul! I have already addressed Rdoc’s argument. I am ready for a counter argument. 🙂
    The maids come from the very poor classes and don’t pay income taxes. In fact even with their new earnigns they would not fall into the tax bracket. – Nita.

  17. February 28, 2008 6:33 pm

    I agree with the minimum wage rule coz it protects the interest of our domestic help.
    But I guess the minimum wage should be fixed hourly. ( if I am not mistaken its now fixed for a month’s work for 1 hour daily, considering the fact that the maid will be coming to work everyday).

    But then I had experiences when the maid asks for an advance payment and then she disappears 🙂

  18. February 28, 2008 7:06 pm

    “However, even in free market economies it is necessary to have min wage laws…Such laws are present in all free market/capitalist countries of the world. Now, imagine if there were no minimum wage laws at all in any industry. No owner would like to pay as we have so much cheap labour available and our country would be doomed to poverty for the rest of it’s days. ”
    Nita, I am afraid that is pretty much conventional fallacy. The so-called free market economies are not worth that name. I talk of a pure laissez-faire capitalism with NO State controls beyond upholding the laws to prevent violation of individual rights. Unfortunately, no country today has that system.

    The minimum wages in the US are a factor why business is outsourced to other countries like India and China. It is also a factor why companies employ foreign immigrants for the lowest jobs (like the Mexicans to paint your house, the Gujjus to drive the cabs, etc.).

    Labor costs, if high and protected by minimum wage acts, prevent companies from paying higher for better workers, and drive out jobs from the economy.
    The absence of minimum wage acts does not prevent a worker from getting higher wages. The rate would be highly individualised, with better workers getting paid better.
    Look at me. A surgeon, I consider myself a skilled laborer, much like a carpenter or seamstress. No one has told my patient that I HAVE to be paid x dollars for a consult or a surgery. I set my own rates, and only willing patients get operated. Do my patients pay me less because there is no State law telling them to pay me the minimum wage for a doctor?

  19. prax permalink
    February 29, 2008 2:46 am

    doc has a point – plus u haven’t mentioned about their khadas or bunks – they should also be held accountable

  20. February 29, 2008 4:20 am

    Nita, when I read your response, it felt like I was hearing my mom and my sister speaking 🙂

    Really, technology must help us out here.


  21. February 29, 2008 5:55 am

    Something to keep in mind that many of the privileges we take for granted in our employment today (e.g. 5-day work-week – where applicable, 8 hour workday, paid vacation/holiday, minimum wage etc.) were all won by labor movements. These didn’t happen because of either free market, or the generosity of the employers but were hard-fought victories by the workers to stop being exploited. Just wanted to give some context to this discussion.


    rambodoc, you’ll probably find yourself together in bed with the same ‘bleeding hearts’ than most conservatives when it comes to issues like gay rights and abortion rights. 😉

  22. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    February 29, 2008 6:24 am


    Thank you for giving context to this discussion. I would prefer to call it “perspective”.

    What you say about “the privileges we take for granted…today” is very true. But it is equally important to realise that with the “free market, liberalisation, privatisation, globalisation” and all the other shibboleths with which so many of us are enamoured, these victories of the labour movement are on their way to becoming a thing of the past.

  23. February 29, 2008 7:12 am

    Vivek, yes, I realized that ‘perspective’ would’ve been a more apt word a moment after I hit “Submit Comment”. Thanks. 🙂

  24. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    February 29, 2008 8:28 am


    Was my comment premature or was it prophetic? This morning’s papers report GoI’s Economic Survey making a case to introduce a 60-day week. Read this in conjunction with the lobbying for relaxation of labour laws, greater freedom to hire and fire, SEZs and other similar “signs of the times”, and you know who is increasingly controlling those whom we elect and empower to run our lives.

    It is one thing for a self-employed person to decide how many hours a day and under what conditions s/he should work. S/he is governed by self-interest and will make rationally optimal decisions regarding the terms and conditions s/he allows for.

    It is quite another thing for employers to lay down the terms and conditions for their employees. And with the mass entry of corporate predators into areas best left to small entrepreneurs, even the opportunities for self-employment and working on one’s own terms are diminishing. We are headed for a world more chilling than Dickens and Orwell working together could have imagined, and its sweep swallows everyone from the fancy MBA in marketing to the sewerage worker.

    Looks like the domestic worker is in better command of her own working life than most of the rest of us.

  25. February 29, 2008 12:13 pm

    Great post! I am a new reader to your blog and am impressed. I also want to respond to one of the comments that said, “Obviously, if a woman works as a cleaner, it is because this is the best she can do” This is not true, in my own personal experience. All of the women in my family worked as domestic helpers when they moved to the USA, and many of them are now in office jobs after using domestic work as a stepping stone.
    Also, I think this is great news for the Philippines – which is also working to increase the minimum wage for domestic workers. Perhaps this news will help move things along in the Philippines.

  26. February 29, 2008 2:30 pm

    Well an awesome lot has been said about the article in the numerous comments and most of what i would want to say has been said by one or the other.
    But i would want to point that i agree with the doc about a free market economy more than others. (Guess its an effect of reading atlas shrugged for the third time 😉
    Nevertheless intriguing post in that, so far i never thought about minimum wages being set in India. Thanks for reminding that such things could be here in India too and not just the West!

    Hi Minal. Minimum wages exist for all industries and they were formulated in India in 1948, but not including domestic workers under their ambit is a terrible injustice. They too are labour. So therefore I cannot agree that there should be no minimum wages for domestic workers because why ar we having it for the rest of industry then? – Nita.

  27. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    February 29, 2008 3:31 pm

    Nita, Minal:

    Although the concept of minimum wages has existed for a long time, it was applicable only to workers in the organised sector. It did not apply to those in the unorganised sector, such as domestic workers. Even now, the degree of organisation that has gone into making the Bengaluru phenomenon possible is in evidence only in the metros (and that too in some localities), where demand clearly outstrips supply and the traditional security nets of the middle class are crumbling. Thus it is more a function of economics than of equity or social justice.

  28. February 29, 2008 8:32 pm

    “And with the mass entry of corporate predators into areas best left to small entrepreneurs, even the opportunities for self-employment and working on one’s own terms are diminishing.”
    And who has decided that? Which areas should corporates be welcome and which areas should they be banned from? Who decides, and why?
    Restricting work hours is another example of Big Government. Each individual and his employer/employee should decide this limit, not some bureaucrap, sorry bureaucrat….
    Rational labor demands within the ambits of private negotiations with Business are absolutely fine. It is only when one of them cries out for State intervention that it becomes manipulative and unfair.

  29. February 29, 2008 9:46 pm

    Rambodoc, I noticed that you only included restrictive work hours and not paid holiday/vacation and 5-day work week in your list of State intervention. 😉
    If a worker wants to work more than 8 hours/day, most places do have a provision for overtime, though not among s/w or “white collar” professionals – they are expected to get the job done even if takes more than 40 hours/week and most of them do work 50-60 hrs/week without any extra payt.

    As I see it, democracy is for,by and of the people (not businesses – businesses are not people). So, if elected officials intervene on behalf of people and their valid concerns, I see no issue with that – they are public servants and are doing their job – though most of them these days are not doing their job by kowtowing to the big businesses and putting concerns of individuals aside.

    I can’t really help it if your ideology makes you blind to the concentration and misuse of power by corporations against individuals, and you continue to believe that corporations are benign entities. We’ll continue to disagree. 🙂

  30. February 29, 2008 9:59 pm

    Rational labor demands within the ambits of private negotiations with Business are absolutely fine.

    Agree with you there. But can you dig into history and come up with examples where rational demands (say, 8 hour work day – which I think is quite reasonable) were accepted by the powers-that-be? I’ll have to read up on history of unions, but I’d guess that people organized only AFTER their reasonable demands were not met.

    The one example from modern times I can cite is Google – which takes great care of its employees. That kind of corporate thinking I can get behind in a second.

  31. February 29, 2008 10:08 pm

    I talk of a pure laissez-faire capitalism with NO State controls beyond upholding the laws to prevent violation of individual rights. Unfortunately, no country today has that system.

    Actually, there is one example at the state level – total deregulation of electricity prices in California. And we all know the results – the Enron scandal. 🙂

  32. Padmini permalink
    March 3, 2008 6:08 am

    Excellent analysis, Nita. Fair or not, it is definitely a move in the right direction. Quite a jump from Rs.299 to Rs.450 even though it’s still a small amount. I hope this is realized in the other states too. BTW, the federal minimum wage in the US is $7.25 while the states range anywhere from $5.85 to $7.00.

    Well, $5-7 an hour does seem pretty good to me, I mean I am sure you can buy a hearty meal in that amount! In India, in a big city the Rs 15/- will not buy a hearty meal. However it would be interesting to know if in the US companies/people actually follow the minimum wage law. Something tells me that they do! – Nita

  33. ahumanbean permalink
    December 30, 2008 4:28 pm

    Hey Nita,

    Just came across this (dated) post: you do write the most relevant and well researched posts!

    Domestic work in India does make me feel all kinds of things: gratitude ( cannot do without my maid); anger ( that they are paid so little and that society accept that); deep despair ( I have seen indirect abuse heaped on live-ins by my ‘educated’ city-sophisticated friends) and …oh, I can go on and on and on.

    I completely disagree with Rambodoc;s ealier point that ‘they can’t do much else’…they are offered so little by society w r t choice

    Your post needs way more publicity. Forwarding the link to few friends forthwith…


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