May 20th, 2021
By Rehan Piracha
Minors below the age of 16 years have been barred from employment as domestic helpers and household staff in the federal capital, according to Islamabad Capital Territory Domestic Worker Bill 2021 passed by the National Assembly on May 18.
The bill provides protection to thousands of household servants in the federal capital. It sets 16 years as the minimum age for employment as well as defines the maximum hours of work for any domestic worker in the federal territory. The bill has now to be passed by the Senate to be enforced in the federal territory.
Speaking in the National Assembly in Islamabad, the legislator from opposition’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Mehnaz Akber Aziz, who was the mover of the bill, said a large number of domestic workers are regularly engaged by residents of Islamabad Capital Territory and so far no legal mechanism for regulation of their employment conditions and protection of their rights has been instituted in the federal capital.
“There are approximately 8.5 million domestic workers in Pakistan according to the International Labour Organization,” Aziz told fellow legislators while briefing about the significance of the Domestic Workers Bill. She said that due to the informal nature of this work, it is considered an exclusively private affair of a household.
She explained that a number of cases of abuse and inappropriate treatment meted out with domestic workers have been reported. The bill aims at providing legal cover for regulating the employment of domestic workers and protecting their rights.
The treasury members did not oppose the bill as the Standing Committee on Interior approved the bill. The bill contains provisions of social protection and welfare, including working hours, minimum wages, an entitlement of leaves, safety, and medical care to domestic servants.
Minimum age of employment
The bill prohibits the employment of children under the age of 16 years of age. Under the law, domestic workers shall not be employed under the bonded labour system or forced/partly forced labour system; no domestic worker shall be discriminated in recruitment, deciding wages, or on grounds of religion, race, caste, creed, sex, and ethnic background.
The bill stipulates that the government will set a minimum wage for different classes of domestic workers. The employers are bound to pay wages to their domestic workers which must not be less than the wages specified by the government under the law.
The employers have to pay wages to every domestic worker on a designated day for all the hours of labour performed within such time.
Under the bill, employers are required to ensure the basic needs of their domestic workers, The provisions include rest breaks, number of hours of sleep, number of meals and working time. Besides, the legislation provides freedom from discrimination and sexual harassment to protect the safety and dignity of domestic workers.
The bill stipulates that a full-time or live-in domestic worker shall have at least a twelve-hour period free of duty in a twenty-four hours period. However, the domestic worker will be provided three hours for rest or break in a 12-hour shift.
Similarly, domestic workers would work six days in any working week. If the employer wishes that the domestic worker works on the seventh day, the pay for this day will be double the normal daily wage. The bill states that a domestic worker may be employed for consecutive seven workdays if the total hours in a workday of such employment do not exceed 30 hours and the total number of hours on any day does not exceed six hours.
Medical and maternity benefits
The bill stipulates that benefits for domestic workers shall include sickness benefits and medical care during sickness and injury. It further authorizes maternity benefits for female domestic workers with a minimum amount equivalent to six weeks’ wage in a prescribed manner but no less than the minimum wages notified by the Government.
Under the bill, employers in the federal capital territory have to submit an employment contract of any domestic worker with an administrator designated by the Islamabad Commissioner. The contract will mention the terms of employment and the wage of the domestic worker.
Mehnaz Akber Aziz said the bill would help Pakistan meet international obligations to protect the rights of all women and children. She said Pakistan has signed a number of international commitments pertaining to women and children – 36 ILO Conventions, including 8 fundamental conventions, including Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
In a tweet, Mehnaz Akber Aziz thanked the opposition and treasury benches for the passage of the historic bill aimed at providing equity and justice to thousands of domestic workers.