The plight of home based women workers in Delhi is unimaginably horrible. Working for meager wages set by a relentlessly exploitative market, hurt by the rising inflation and forced to be exploited even further, the woman worker who works from home in New Delhi is the epitome of exploitation and a symbol of the irresponsible and callous attitude of the Indian government. In this post, we feature a news report (in Hindi) by NDTV India which depicts the difficulties faced by women working from home quite poignantly. The All India Democratic Women Association (AIDWA) has taken up cudgels for the women and the post carries a statement from them.
NDTV India Report by NDTV correspondent Ravish Kumar -
Statement by AIDWA :
Home Based Women Workers of Delhi: Time to Wake Up!
The Janwadi Mahila Samiti has been organizing home based piece rate women workers of Delhi for the last three years for their recognition as workers and for their right to social security. The numbers of these invisible women are growing by the day and there is hardly a working class family in Delhi in which women members, often along with their children, are not engaged in piece rate work. The Prof. Arjun Sengupta Report estimates that over 8 crore women, i.e., more than half of all unorganized sector women workers of our country do home based work like making bidis, doing zari, embroidery, or other handloom work, bindi sticking, stitching labels, and even hazardous work involving acids and chemicals etc. 79% of them work on a piece-rate basis, which is based on payment according to the number of units completed. The units are often calculated in 12 dozens, i.e., 144 pieces. This work is characterized by irregular or seasonal availability of work, extremely exploitative conditions and outrageously unfair wages.
It is significant that the much talked about Mission Convergence programme of the Delhi government has been conducting a door-to-door survey of the poor of Delhi in order to identify its vulnerable and most-vulnerable population. Despite marches, signature campaigns and memorandums followed by discussions with the Delhi government, home based women workers do not figure in this survey which includes various sectors of unorganized sector work. Their work is unrecognized. It is the position of these workers as women based in their respective homes that makes their work among the most exploitative in today’s times. But these silent contributors to Indian economy deserve their due and the government needs to be compelled to wake up to their plight.
Since home based women workers work from their homes, they view themselves not as workers but as wives or mothers trying to make their little contribution to the family income. Contractors deliver various types of outsourced, sub-contracted work in their neighbourhood or on their doorsteps and get away with paying a pittance. Since such workers are drawn from women who have been housewives and whose labour has never been valued in terms of money, they are easy prey for exploitation since even very little payment gives them a sense of some worth. Most women motivate themselves for backbreaking work so that they can give better food to their children or bear little household expenditure. Rising prices of essential commodities, lack of opportunities for gainful employment and growing household indebtedness have contributed to this trend. Women suffer from a double burden of work that involves both running their households and earning a livelihood.
The overall condition of work for Home Based Women Workers is extremely exploitative with no job security, no social security like old age pension, health insurance or provident fund, long hours of work and no implementation of the minimum wage norm. Women who do home based work regularly suffer from health hazards like backaches and failing eyesight. Their employers end up making more profits by paying lower wages as well as saving the cost of operating a work place like - rent, electricity, water, equipment and other maintenance costs. Today, home based workers, especially in export-oriented work, are bearing the brunt of the global economic crisis. On the one hand they are facing shrinking work availability, and on the other a progressive reduction in piece rates. They are unable to bargain for better wages or to even protest against falling price rates, because thousands others are waiting to take their place.
Most of these Home Based workers cannot be categorized in any particular sector of work like garment sector etc. since they keep on changing their work according to availability and season.
An interview-based survey of 363 home-based women workers of Delhi conducted in 2008 revealed that after working on an average of nearly seven hours a day along with other family members, the home based workers in Delhi manage to earn only Rs.32.54, whereas the daily minimum wage for unskilled workers in Delhi is over Rs.204. They get work only for an average of 16 days a month.
Out of the 47 types of work identified by us, some examples of the piece rates are as follows:
1. 30 paise per 24 inch mala
2. Rs 4 for sticking bindis on 144 packets
3. Rs 7 for gluing inside seal on 800 Plastic Bottle Caps
4. Rs 2 for decorating 200 cards and envelops in plastic display sheets
5. 75 paise for making crochet coasters
6. Rs 2 for picking 1 kg of round glass for handicraft work from broken piles of glass
7. Re 1 for making 144 hair bands
8. 80 paise for making 144 key rings
9. Rs 20-25 for stitching a ladies suit
10. Rs 2.50 for making a stuffed and embroidered toy
11. 60 paise for making 144 whistles for toys
12. Rs 7 for making 100 beads bangles
13. Rs 6 for making 100 press elements
14. Re 1 for neatly cutting 24 bands of slippers from rubber.
15. Re 1 for filling 1kg edible choona in small bottles (approx. 1000 bottles)
10.15% of the interviewed home based workers belonged to the general category, while 48.62% were minorities, 20.92% were OBCs, 15.08% were dalits and 5.23% were tribals.
Of all the women interviewed by us, 80.28% were married, 10.83% were unmarried, 6.39% were widowed, 1.39% had been abandoned by their husbands and 1.11% were divorced.
Only 25% women were born and brought up in Delhi, while most others were migrants from different states including UP (52.61%), Bihar (14.18%), Rajasthan, Harayana, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Orissa, AP, Assam, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, and West Bengal.
57.43% of the women lived in their own houses in JJ clusters, resettlement colonies, etc., while 42.57% lived in rented accommodation.
The husbands or fathers of only 6.23% home based workers had permanent jobs, while 31.23% were daily wagers, 37.92% were in temporary or casual employment, 13.01% were self-employed and as high as 11.52% were unemployed.
Their average family size was 5.92, with the largest families having 18, 17, 16, 15 and 13 members, respectively.
Their average combined monthly family income came to Rs. 2899 only, i.e., about Rs. 489.70 per capita per month.
53.91% families were living in debt.
93.16% families could not manage any monthly savings and were living a hand to mouth existence.
33.63% of the families did not have any ration cards.
Only 6.43% had BPL (Yellow) cards.
1.79% had Antyodaya (Red) cards.
58.19% had APL (White) cards.
94.17% received work through contractors.
2.22% received piece rate work from factories near their homes.
3.61% were self-employed who made small items and sold them to local shops.
The women worked at different times in a day. While some choose to work at a stretch, others worked in slots in the morning, afternoon, evening and night. On an average, the women did piece rate work for 6.98 hours in a day.
In almost all the households, children or elders in the family helped the home based women workers in completing their daily quota of piece rate work. Thus, the labour of more than one person went into completing the task at hand. This form of child labour, wherein, children engage in unpaid work in order to help their mothers, largely remains outside the ambit of general discussions on preventing child labour. Not only did the women have to bear a double burden of work, but in many households, other female family members like young daughters were also forced to shoulder the burden of domestic chores.
With the involvement of several family members in completing the piece rate work, the average monthly earning of these women came to only Rs. 519.41. The maximum earning in a month was Rs. 3000 and the minimum earning was as low as Rs. 20.
Even with this meager earning, 46.76% women were forced to spend their own money on tools and material like needles, thread, scissors, syringe, plass, embroidery frame, etc.
17.59% women spent their own money on transport for obtaining and delivering work.
The most alarming aspect of their work is their decreasing piece rates. While the piece rates of 43.01% women have remained the same over time, only 16.06% had experienced an increase in piece rates. As high as 40.93% women claimed that their piece rates had decreased, i.e., they were compelled to do the same amount of work at a lower rate. For example, the rate for making embroidered stuffed toys had decreased from Re 1 per piece to 75 paise per piece, the rate for zardozi embroidery on suits had decreased from Rs 80 per suit to Rs 50 per suit, the rate for making frocks for dolls had decreased from 30 paise per frock to 25 paise per frock, the rate of making beads coasters for export purposes had decreased from Rs 9 per coaster to Re 1 per piece, etc. Yet, most of these women also claimed that they could not object to this reduction because they feared antagonizing their contractors and loosing their work. However, we did come across occasional women, who chose to stop work due to falling piece rates.
88.98% of these women suffered from work related health problems like – backache, weak eyesight, headache, pain in legs, watery eyes, injury in hands due to cuts by glass, injury in hands due to wet limestone, knee pain, stomach pain, shoulder pain, swelling, neck pain, stiff fingers, etc, while some also suffered from more serious diseases like TB, kidney stone, stone in gall bladder, diabetes, thyroid disorder etc. However, most of the women left these problems untreated.
In December 2008, The Unorganized Sector Worker’s Social Security Act was passed by both houses of Parliament amidst controversy. The Act goes no further than accepting in principle that social security should be provided to unorganized sector workers. No new schemes were announced and no specific financial allocation made (The Rashtriya Swasthaya Bima Yojna predates the passage of this Act and is restricted only to BPL families). Even the Rules of this Act have not been notified. The Act is no more than a statement of intent, which leaves the task of formulating social security schemes to State Governments and subsequent Union Governments. The Act mandates respective State Governments to constitute State Level Boards for formulating social security and welfare schemes, but these boards only have advisory powers.
Despite several shortcomings, the Act states that social security is a right of all unorganized sector workers. With growing casualization and informalization of work in the country it is about time that the Union and state governments take concrete steps in this regard. The governments of West Bengal and Tripura started a contributory provident fund scheme in the years 2000 and 2002, respectively, for all unorganized sector workers of their state. If a worker saves Re 1 a day then the government also adds the same amount to their account with EPF interest rates. In our three years old campaign among home based women workers of Delhi we find that women spontaneously favour the formulation of such a scheme in Delhi from among the various examples of social security schemes from across the country. Their choice is based on an assessment of what they can manage to save in a day.
The Janwadi Mahila Samiti demands the following from the Delhi government:
It is about time that the government wakes up to the stark reality of lakhs of home based women workers in Delhi and takes concrete steps in recognition of their work, condition and contribution.