Policy regarding domestic workers: Protection remains only on paper
The Domestic Workers Protection and Welfare Policy 2015, which aims to safeguard the rights and well-being of over two million domestic workers -- mostly women and children -- have remained unimplemented for the past eight years due to the government's lack of political will and negligence.
The major stakeholders, including domestic workers, employers, and law enforcement officials, are still unaware of the policy and the need for adequate resources and training to respond effectively to rights violations.
Despite being required to meet every six months, the central monitoring cell, established under the labour ministry three years ago to oversee the implementation of the policy, failed to convene a meeting even once, said Abul Hossain, advisor of National Domestic Women Workers Union.
Furthermore, the monitoring cells that were supposed to be formed at the city corporation, district, and upazila levels -- headed by chief executive officers, deputy commissioners, and UNOs -- were never established.
Hossain expressed his concerns over the absence of inspection teams. The teams should have included mayors of the respective city corporations or municipalities, union parishad chairs, local elites, and government representatives under the local government.
Last year, the High Court condemned the policy for being "incomplete" and "vague" as it did not provide specific information such as the amount of compensation for victims of violations, payment method, number of leave days, and the appeal process for domestic workers who were denied leave.
As a result, domestic workers are still subjected to various forms of abuse, including sexual abuse (4 percent), physical abuse (21 percent), mental abuse (67 percent), and verbal abuse (61 percent), found a recent study by Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies and Dnet.
However, 95 percent of workers did not report the abuse to anyone--as domestic violence is considered a regular occurrence to them and they do not seek legal measures against it.
Around 99 percent of domestic workers are unaware of the policy, while only 66 percent of employers have some knowledge about it.
Titled "Decent work and intersections with VAW/GBV: A study on Domestic Workers in Bangladesh", the study also revealed that despite the policy guaranteeing 16 weeks of maternity leave, only 0.5 percent of them are eligible for paid leave, while 87 percent of domestic workers have no days off. Most work for more than 12 hours per day.
More than half of the workers suffer from health issues such as asthma, skin diseases, fever, and urine infections, and mostly seek treatment from dispensaries.
Most domestic workers in Bangladesh earn Tk 5,311 per month, which 96 percent of them believe is insufficient to cover basic needs. Also, 23 percent of these workers incurred hospitalisation expenses in the past year, costing Tk 25,999.
The study recommended implementing existing policies and laws, raising awareness of compensation and survivor rights, creating a compensation fund, establishing a minimum wage to address the issues faced by them and training law enforcement to handle gender-based violence cases and ensuring safe working conditions.
Shaheen Anam, executive director of Manusher Jonno Foundation, emphasised the importance of bringing domestic workers under the purview of the existing labour law to effectively implement the policy.
"Without the law, the government cannot be made responsible," she said.
"To provide domestic workers with equal pay and protection has been a persistent challenge due to the nature of their work and economic disparities among employers. To address this, different employment grades should be established, and formal appointments with job security should be offered," she stated.
"Besides, registering and inspecting child domestic workers regularly is crucial to combat the culture of impunity surrounding the abuse that they face," she said.