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South Asia: Nations to Work on Minimum Wages for Maids Abroad

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By A Correspondent *

South Asian nations — Nepal, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh — that send workers to foreign destinations have decided to explore minimum wage for migrant workers.

They decided to set a reference price for Gulf-bound women migrant workers and lobby for enforcing it in job destinations at South Asian Consultation on International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 189 held in Kerala.

Most of the South Asian countries send domestic workers, so they should have a common minimum wage for migrant workers, said Agnes Matienzo from Migration Forum Asia — a Manila-based non-governmental organisation working for migrants’ rights.

“Collective bargaining is a worker’s right, so let’s start it collectively from sending countries,” she said, adding that unity among sending countries will put pressure on receiving countries. “The earnings of women migrant workers will increase through this initiative,” she said, urging South Asian nations to jointly lobby for it. An ILO study shows that more than 88 per cent domestic workers — both at home and abroad — have no guarantee to a statuary minimum wage.

Currently, South Asian domestic workers are earning less than $300 (Rs 27,000) doing jobs for 10-14 hours in Gulf countries — Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Nepali women have been living in pathetic conditions, earning less than $200 (Rs 18,000) while Filipino domestic workers are earning more than $400.

Low wage, work stress and other abuses from employers are major problems that domestic workers face in Gulf countries. “People have no option but to look for foreign jobs,” said a workers’ rights activist from Kerala P Saidali Kutty. “Unless we provide better opportunities at home the trend will continue.”

However, Nepal’s situation is a little better than others. “The minimum wage set by the Minimum Wage Determination Committee is applicable to all workers. Domestic workers are also entitled to the same benefits,” said trade union leader Achut Raj Pandey from Nepal. “We still have to fight a long battle to provide benefits to domestic workers at home,” he added.

Prof Dr Bhim Prasad Subedi from Nepal said collective action is necessary to boost bargaining power. “Nepal has set a minimum wage for migrant domestic workers but we need to enforce it seriously.”

Ministry of Labour and Employment has set four criteria for Nepali domestic workers in four major destinations — Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait. “The minimum wage should be above $400 (Rs 36,000) for all countries with some variations,” he said.

About 2,500 Nepali women join foreign jobs, mainly as domestic help, through the government process every month. It is estimated that about 60 to 70 workers go to the Gulf illegally via India despite strict regulations.

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