Mitras Analysis of News : 14-7-2017

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1.Need to regularise the working conditions for Domestic helps (The Hindu)

.Vibrant democracy, dormant parliament (Live Mint)

 

1.It’s not help, it’s work (The Hindu)

 Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of regularising the laws related to work conditions of domestic workers. (GS paper II)

Overview

  • Unorganized sector Workers accounts to more than 37 crores i.e. 93% of the Indian Workers of which substantial numbers are women employed as domestic helps.
  • Though Women workers constitute a sizable segment of the workforce in the unorganized secto. The lack of visibility and documentation of women’s work in the unorganized sector is well known

Plight of domestic helps

  • Nearly 54 percent of working age women between the ages of 15 to 59 are not available for work because of household responsibilities or domestic work. Hired domestic workers ease the burden of individual households by undertaking household chores in return for remuneration.
  • The tasks include the care of children and the elderly, cooking, driving, cleaning, grocery shopping, running errands and taking care of household pets, particularly in urban areas. However, despite the benefits this work brings to individual households, domestic workers are often not recognized as workers by society.
  • Domestic workers in India continue to struggle for visibility and acknowledgement. While several legislations are constituted such as the Unorganized Social Security Act, 2008, Sexual Harassment against Women at Work Place (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 and Minimum Wages Schedules notified in various states refer to domestic workers, there remains an absence of comprehensive, uniformly applicable, national legislation that guarantees fair terms of employment and decent working conditions.
  • Domestic workers should however be guaranteed the same terms of employment as enjoyed by other workers.

Unfair regularisations

  • Government has made verification of domestic help a priority. But what is most objectionable is the criminalisation of people on the basis of their occupation. Domestic workers are being made to fill up the form and submit them to the nearest police station.
  • The data sought by the form includes, among other things, the domestic help’s “petwords, they use in speech”, physical built, complexion and handwriting specimen, besides descriptions of eyes, hair, tattoo marks, and prints of all the fingers of both hands.
  • However, no such information is required about the employer, despite there being plentiful evidence to suggest that the security threat works the both ways.
  • Moreover, no other category of workers is required to register themselves with the police.

Crisis of recognition

  • In a country where 93% of the workforce is in the unorganised sector and therefore beyond the purview of most labour laws, domestic workers represent a new low in terms of unrecognition as they are not even recognised as workers in a true sense. Their work such as cooking, cleaning, dish-washing etc. is not recognised as work by the state.
  • Moreover, there is no proper legislation for their protection. At present, India has only two laws that, in a roundabout way, construe domestic helps as workers. The Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008, (UWSSA) and the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.
  • While the former is a social welfare scheme, the latter is aims to protect working women in general. Neither of these recognises domestic helps as rights-bearing workers.
  • State regulation exists in the form of a draft National Policy for Domestic Workers. This policy not only calls for promoting awareness of domestic work as a legitimate labour market activity but also recommends amending existing labour laws to ensure that domestic workers enjoy all the labour rights that other workers do. But the government seems to be in no hurry to adopt it.

Why a sudden surge in population of domestic helps?

  • The apparently endless supply of domestic workers has a lot to do with the decline of employment opportunities in the agriculture and manufacturing sectors, which took a hit post-2008.
  • At the same time, demand kept rising, as the entry of middle class and upper middle class women into the male-dominated world of work was not matched in scale by a corresponding entry of men into the (feminised) realm of unpaid housework.
  • Poorer women from the hinterlands stepped in to fill the labour gap, for some remuneration. Today, the economic value of housework is no longer disputed. But the nexus of the state and the market has managed to keep domestic work outside the realm of economic regulation. Neither the Maternity Benefits Act nor the Minimum Wages Act or any of the scores of other labour laws apply to domestic work.

Problems to indirect election

  • A fundamental issue with a directly elected Mayor is that instead of enabling efficiency, it might actually result in gridlock in administration, especially when the Mayor and the majority of elected members of the city council are from different political parties.
  • Notably, bill gives the Mayor veto powers over some of the council’s resolutions and also lets the Mayor nominate members of the Mayor-in-Council and vest it with powers. Essentially, it centralises power in the hands of the Mayor and his nominees and creates a political executive which neither enjoys the support of the elected council nor needs its acquiescence for taking decisions.

Way ahead

  • A good place to start would be to consider enacting a Domestic Workers Regulation of Work and Social Security Act. The National Platform for Domestic Workers submitted a draft bill, the Domestic Workers Regulation of Work and Social Security Bill, 2016, to the government.
  • Going beyond state-centric welfare measures, it calls for the compulsory registration of the employer and the employee with the District Board for regulation of domestic workers. Unlike the UWSSA, which puts the onus on the state, it mandates the collection of cess from the employer for the maintenance of a social security fund for domestic workers, whose access would be mediated through an identity card.
  • This framework achieves both the objectives of police verification — security, and documentation of identification data. But in a refreshing contrast, it does so not by criminalising domestic helps but by empowering them as rights-bearing workers.

Question How reforming the working conditions for domestic helps will empower millions of women?

 

2.Vibrant democracy, dormant parliament (Live Mint)

 Synoptic line: It throws light on the need to reform parliamentary procedures in order to fulfil the ideals of democracy. (GS paper II)

Overview

  • Primary function of the Indian parliament is to enact laws. In addition, the parliament is also entrusted with the duties of discussing the finances of the nation and people’s grievances through various parliamentary mechanisms that are in place.
  • To accomplish these tasks, the parliament is in session 3 times each year for the budget session, the monsoon session, and the winter session. However, frequent disruptions of the house leads to huge economic and democratic costs to the nation.

State of Parliament’s functioning

  • The core thing about Parliament is its members represent Indian citizens.On behalf of citizens the MPs have been authorised to discuss, debate bills, etc, that the government (or any private member) introduces, examine it carefully, and reach at the best option available to enact the best laws for the citizens and the country.
  • The process of legislation is slow and lagged. There are times when it extends from one Parliament to the next. Laws are often passed in a rush through loud voices or large numbers. There is little scrutiny of draft legislation. And there is almost no follow-up on rules when laws are put in place.
  • Discourse and debate on issues of national importance were an attribute and highlight of Parliament during the first two decades of the republic, until around 1970. But this has eroded and diminished with the passage of time. There is discussion but it is often partisan sometimes a dialogue of the deaf between groups where party lines are sharply drawn. Thus, differences lead to protests in the form of walk-outs or rushing to the well of the house.
  • There are two reasons for this decline. Parliament does not meet or work long enough. And there are institutional constraints on its performance while working.
  • The time lost due to disruptions, reported in hours and minutes, has been converted into days on the premise that, as a norm, Parliament meets for 6 hours per day. In these five years, on an average per annum, the Lok Sabha met for 69 days of which 20 days were lost to disruptions, while the Rajya Sabha met for 68 days of which 20 days were lost to disruptions.
  • In the total number of sittings, disruptions took away 30% of the time in the Lok Sabha and 35% of the time in the Rajya Sabha. Both houses did sit for extra hours but that made up for a very small proportion of the time lost. Even when the Parliament sits and meets, there is more noise than debate, more shouting than listening, and more statements than engagement or debate.

Comparison with peers

  • The duration for which Parliament meets in India, compared with other democracies, is short. In the UK, both the House of Commons and the House of Lords meet for more than 150 days per year. In the US, both the House of Representatives and the Senate meet for 133 days per year. In Japan, as a norm, the Diet meets for 150 days per year and this is often extended.
  • It is not as if our members of Parliament (MPs) are not paid enough. The salary, constituency allowance and office expenses paid to each MP are Rs1.4 lakh per month. In addition, there is a daily allowance for presence in Parliament or its committees, plus free housing, furnishing, electricity, water, telephones and healthcare, which taken together add up to Rs1.52 lakh per month.
  • Thus, the cost-to-country of an MP is more than Rs35 lakh per year, which is almost 40 times the per capita income of the nation. In addition, there are lifetime pensions.

Constraints on legislators

  • In fairness, there are institutional constraints on the performance of MPs as well. The allocation of time for MPs to speak is proportional to the strength of their political party in the house and its leadership decides who gets to speak and for how long.
  • The speaker of the Lok Sabha or the chairman of the Rajya Sabha have little discretion in the matter. The only other opportunities for MPs are during question hour or zero hour. Answers to unstarred questions are simply laid on the table of the house. Starred questions are too many. Only a few come up for discussion. And these are just not taken up if the concerned MP is not present at the time. In zero hour, the speaker or the chairman have the discretion to invite an MP to speak, but time is too little and speeches are often drowned out in pandemonium.
  • It is not only time. MPs do not quite have the freedom to speak in our Parliament as in other democracies. For one, they are afraid of what the party leadership might think, which could affect their future. For another, party whips, of three types, are a problem.
  • A one-line whip is non-binding, informing members of the vote. A two-line whip requires attendance in the house for the vote. A three-line whip is a clear-cut directive to be present in the house during the vote and cast their vote in accordance with the party line.
  • Any violation of this whip could lead to an MP’s expulsion from the house. In India, the anti-defection law stipulates that a three-line whip can be violated only if more than one-third of a party’s MPs do so. This is the unintended consequence of a law that might have mitigated one problem but created another, which is emasculating our Parliament as an institution.

Way ahead

  • It is essential to recognize the complexity of this problem before we can find or design solutions. The answers lie, inter alia, in electoral reform through public funding of elections, combined with political reform that mandates disclosure on the sources of financing for political parties, and sets rules for elections within political parties to foster intra-party democracy that has been stifled not only by dynasties but also by oligarchies.

Question Parliament lies in shambles when its performance is evaluated on terms of efficiency. What type of reforms are required on this front?

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