Stop sharing photos of domestic workers on Facebook. Fix the problem instead!

Published: May 3, 2016
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PHOTO: YUSRA ASKARI

If one is seen accompanied by their domestic staff in a public setting, it’s common practice for them to end up being secretly photographed; the picture being shared all over social networking websites. All this accomplishes is violating someone’s right to privacy, and starting internet wars over the picture, the discussion soon becoming personal, dirty and irrelevant.

Amidst all the personal attacks and battles of egos – socio-economic issues are ignored. Be it a tweet, blog article, or a Facebook post, instead of indulging in a civilised discussion where one can work towards finding sustainable and practical solutions, people find reasons to launch personal attacks at one other.

In order to find a solution, we need to identify the problem. The main problem isn’t that domestic workers accompany their employers to restaurants and/or shopping malls.

It is only part of the problem.

The crux of the matter is that domestic workers in Pakistan have little or no rights. The rights, which are there in theory, are absent in practice. It is not just the domestic workers who are unaware of their rights, most of the times even the employers have little or no knowledge.

A great majority of the people who employ domestic workers believe that they have been ‘purchased’ and not hired. In other words, they are not employees, but slaves. This kind of mindset is a major problem considering we don’t identify them as employees in the same way as many of us are employed at our work places. As an employee, all of us have certain rights and benefits that we get in return for our services.

Pakistan has the third largest children’s workforce in the world, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO). So, if you feel for the child that looks with longing eyes as his employer enjoys a feast, then host a campaign in favour of eradicating child labour in Pakistan.

If you feel for the man who stands with multiple shopping bags as his employer splurges at expensive shops, then campaign for the 52.6 million domestic workers in Pakistan, and their right to dignity and fair employment.

A domestic worker carries shopping bags as his employer shops.
Photo: Facebook

The point that I’m trying to make is that instead of criticising, find ways to change the status quo. If the society is unaware of the injustices, then make them aware. Freire puts it eloquently in the following words:

“To affirm that men and women are persons and as persons should be free, and yet to do nothing tangible to make this affirmation a reality, is a farce.”

Here’s what you and I can do: inform the domestic workers of their rights and inform the employers of their duties.

Qaaf se Qanoon, a radio show aired an episode on the rights of domestic workers recently. The guest speaker, Abira Ashfaq (a lawyer and teacher by profession), spoke about the rights of domestic workers in Pakistan. Some of the interesting points discussed in the show were:

1. The absence of a formal employment contract disables a domestic worker from having any concrete rights, including being paid for overtime and/or legal mechanisms to protect them from sexual harassment and abuse.

2. Currently there is no law in Pakistan that specifically addresses the rights of domestic workers. However, there are certain rights of domestic workers which flow from various pieces of legislation.

3. The constitution of Pakistan (right to association, Article 17) and The Industrial Relations Act, 2012, give the right to workers, including domestic workers, to organise a trade union. In January 2015, Pakistan Workers Federation (PWF) formed the Domestic Workers’ Trade Union, under the provisions of the Punjab Industrial Relations Act, 2010.

4. Domestic workers are included in the category of workers protected under Minimum Wage Act 1961. The Sindh Assembly has also passed a law, the Sindh Minimum Wages Bill, 2015, to regulate the minimum wage of unskilled workers in the province and has set the minimum wage for 2015-2016 at Rs13,000 per month in Sindh.

5. Under section 55-A of Punjab Provincial Employees Social Security Ordinance, 1965, “every employer of a domestic servant shall be liable to provide [medical treatment] at his own cost”.

6. ILO provides guidance regarding the rights of domestic workers in the form of ILO Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No 189). Pakistan has not yet ratified this convention, although there is international and national pressure to ratify. Some of the key articles of this convention are as follows:

– All domestic workers should have the right to association.

– Elimination of forced labour.

– Abolition of child labour.

– Regulation of a minimum wage, as well as age of domestic workers.

– Safety against all forms of abuse and/or harassment.

– Violence and discrimination.

– Decent working conditions as well as a healthy and safe working environment.

– Full disclosure of their rights and duties at the start of employment and, if possible, in the form of a written contract.

– Weekly rest of at least 24 consecutive hours.

– Monthly payment of wages.

– Overtime compensation.

– Above all, provision and protection of social security and fundamental human rights.

7. According to Labour Force Survey 2012-2013, approximately 60 per cent of the workers earn less than Rs10,000 and 20 per cent earn less than Rs5,000.

Now that we know enough, let’s start educating others!

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Amnah Mohasin

Amnah Mohasin

The author is a Law graduate, currently pursuing her Masters in Forensics, Criminology and Law in The Netherlands. When she is not ranting about the socio-economic issues from a subjective point of view in her blog articles, she blogs on behalf of Qaaf se Qanoon - SZABIST's legal and research clinic and legal literacy radio show

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • tuk

    What is wrong with carrying bags when the employer shops?? The problem in Pakistan is that even the educated ones have half the knowledge of the developed societies and are more like ‘neem hakeem khatrai jaan’. What are you going to do when neither the employer nor the domestic help has any clue what counts as abuse nor they care? The problem is poverty. Solve it by education and creating jobs, the other pieces will fall in place.Recommend

  • Jehanzeb Khan

    It is good practice to name & shame those exploiting the poverty & misery of domestic workers. Ms Amnah Mohasin have you seen this happening in Netherlands where you pursue your study. Of course not. So, please learn some basic social values there. Recommend

  • Beenish Khan

    I think where is she right now, the right to privacy is considered very important. So taking someone’s picture and posting it online is not the social value there.

    Naming and shaming are not a solution. It is an easy way out for people who don’t want to do anything concrete and just brush their hands off from the problem. Recommend

  • liberal-lubna-fromLahore

    Good, much needed blog!Recommend

  • Imzano

    are you crazy..who will clean my dishes and cook my food, wash my clothes and do jhaar por ….i cant let the domestic worker to have know how of that….Recommend

  • Haseeb

    I think from where she is studying, people take the right to privacy very seriously. If you feel so much about the poor, do something concrete, instead of just ‘naming and shaming’ people and thinking that you have done enough. That’s just lazy.Recommend

  • Parvez

    The best way to learn is by example and that is what leaders are supposed to do…..set a good example for the people. Now look at our leaders their idea of importance is to keep a commercial flight waiting for hours or traveling in a 30 car motorcade ……..or as very recently seen, slapping a guard for doing his duty. I believe that when we talk on a national basis it’s vital that our leaders must be beyond reproach ……. or at least try.
    The tongue-in-cheek comment of Imzano was spot on.Recommend

  • Majid

    these things are sound good on paper and drawing room discussion but the ground realitiies are quite different the perpetual myth of domestic servent plight and abuse are now getting out of control, yes instant of domestic servents abuse, harrasment and exploitation do happen, but there is an another side of story too, How domestic servants demand whatever salary, cheat on work load, steal food items and even valaubles and money from employers home, leave job without even a day notice, do sub standard work, sometimes most of employees tolerate stealing of food items becasue they dread finding the domestic servant leaving and finding another one who isnt the bigger theif. Some has the gut to demand what ever good salary they want then complaining or leaving when employer demand equally good work. More over commiting to join the work then at joining day demand more salary try to exploit the employer, and God frobid if they saw that employers are sick , old or bedridden they demand 3 times the market rate becasue they exploit rpthe problem. Author when you write about the problem take both sides, domestic servants do had union but so must employers had their own association to protect their rights. And what more i tell you misbehaving and rude behavior , there is a girl who gone missing from employers house her parents start shouting and pointing fingers at employer who si an old couple there children live abroad that they sell their daughter or someting. Perfectly understandable , police took the old man in, had him in station for 2 days on a bench anyway he got bail, but case still lingering old couple got so scared with police harrasmnet that he slept at some relative house,police were saying give few lac money to us and the paretns and this case will be closed later after all the suffering the truth got out, the girl actually run away with her lover, and parents knew it, old couple were sleeping during the afternoon and she quitly left the house her parents knew it they thought why not blackmail the old couple and cash it for thier own benefit. Author the rights and quality bandwagon work both ways, hwo about the rights of white collar people who have to do multiple jobs each abrely paying 5 to 10 k slaray to make both ends meet and on top they had maintain what you call safiad poshi ka bharam, and tehn had to tackle with domestic servants too, please consider my plea, otherwise it would be the same as when many years ago there was hue and cry for tenants rights and end result w the laws were so in tenant favour they many tenants were able to reside permantly in the rented 250 yeard homes and paying 250rs rent for it that too submited in court. Thats the problem every issue here would de evolve into rich vs poor battle, its not the rich(or middle class hand to mouth) that are exploiting many time tis the other way around. Nothign is absolute. Oyher wise domestic servant would act like steorer typical govt office employees all about slaray, rights , overtiem and no work.Recommend