The sustained struggle of household workers’ unions in Maharashtra, demanding social and financial security, has achieved a significant milestone by forcing the state government to accept their demand for the revival of an independent board for household workers and their registration. This would enable more than 15 lakh domestic workers in Maharashtra to get the benefits of government's various schemes, according to the unions of domestic workers. The unions had been demanding this since over six years.
They said that since domestic workers – 90% of which are women – are not registered with the state government, they are unable to access the benefits of various state welfare schemes. Additionally, the previous Bharatiya Janata Party-led government also shut down two important schemes for the workers.
Earlier, under the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party government, female domestic workers above the age of 55 years were entitle to Rs 5,000. However, the scheme was discontinued in 2014. There was another scheme awarding scholarships to children of domestic workers which was also discontinued. The unions are demanding the restart of these schemes as well.
"We held a number of protests in the last four years. We also met then labour ministers and informed the need of the domestic workers. But they ignored our demands continuously. Now, at least the current government has accepted the need for revival of the old schemes," said Nila Limaye, representative of the Maharashtra Shramik Parishad.
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During the period of the nationwide lockdown, the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi government led by Shiv Sena-NCP coalition, transferred Rs 5,000 to each worker registered in real estate industry. But these benefits couldn't be forwarded to a large section of informal sectors including domestic workers and hawkers.
While there was an unorganised workers welfare board in the state, it has been dysfunctional for several years now. Commenting on the decision to revive the domestic workers’ board, Labour Minister Dilip Walse Patil said, "Within two months, the revival of board will be completed and the registration process will begin. The unions have been requested to actively participate in the registration process so that no domestic worker is left behind."
On being asked whether the government is considering any cash transfer like for construction workers, he said that once the registration of workers is completed, the government will be able to figure out the amount required. He added, “We accept the reality that the domestic workers are in need of financial assistance. But, the government cannot allot money without clear data. Once we get that we will surely consider the demand.
Meanwhile, the state government has already started raising fundd to expand the scope of beneficiaries for the Direct Bank Transfer (DBT) scheme.
Christine Meri of National Domestic Workers’ Union welcomed the steps of government and said that the process of registration should be expedited. Uday Bhat of Sarva Shramik Sanghatana said that the focus of the registration process should be all across the state. "Domestic workers are not there only in metros. The small towns and cities, in fact, have more domestic workers. The financial calamity has hit them badly too. That is why state should reach out to all," he added.
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