Is fifty rupees a day too much to ask for? For people like Tamilarasi (50), whose days are spent washing dirty clothes and keeping somebody else’s house clean, it apparently is. Tamilarasi’s assertion clearly reflects the long-pending demand of domestic workers to the government to fix a minimum wage for them. Vallarmathi, State Coordinator of the National Domestic Workers movement, who for long had been battling for this cause, said, “The government set up a committee to study the status of wages of the domestic workers across the districts in Tamil Nadu and they presented a report in Feb 2010 . The committee had recommended to fix minimum wage of Rs 30 per hour. So far, even after repeated representations and petitions, nothing had happened.”
In Tamil Nadu alone, around 14 lakh domestic workers are overworked, underpaid and are subject to various kinds of exploitation. Pushpa (34), a domestic worker for the past 15 years in the Kodambakkam area said, “Cooking for a family of five to seven members once a day, I am paid only Rs 1,500 every month. In another house where I cook both in the morning and evening, I am paid Rs 3,000 a month. To earn that money I work for an average of five hours a day.” Pusha wakes up 4.30 am every day and reports to work at 6.30 am , so that her employer - a college lecturer - gets to work on time. Pushpa said, “The wages for domestic work haven’t increased much in years, while the cost of living has gone up many times. Most of the employers do not pay any bonus.” In areas like Choolaimedu, T Nagar, Mylapore and some places in North Chennai, wages for domestic help are the bare minimum.Tamilarasi added, “For all my work, I earn about Rs 800 - 1,000. With all the price rise, it is becoming very difficult to live with this money. I hope the government comes forward to fix a minimum wage for us.” The Central Government, in July 2010 had sent a circular to all State Governments to fix a minimum wage, rues Vallarmathi. Sadly, the wait seems endless.