Tuesday Mar 05 2019

The domestic workers model

Lahore High Court has passed a monumental judgement for Pakistan’s often exploited domestic workers

Justice Jawad Hassan of the Lahore High Court (LHC) has passed the Subay Khan vs. Secretary Labour Government of Punjab and Others, a landmark judgment protecting the rights of domestic workers in Punjab.

During the proceedings, the provincial government presented the Punjab Domestic Workers Bill 2018, which was then placed before a committee, formed by the government, and endorsed by the Court. The committee consisted of eminent professionals from both the public and private sectors.

After a detailed deliberation, a new draft was presented before the Court, which then took shape as the Punjab Domestic Workers Act 2018.

This Act prohibits the working of a child below the age of 15 years in a household in any capacity. It, however, allows children under the age of 18 to do light work in a household. The light work as defined in the Act, entails domestic work which is part-time in nature and is not likely to harm the child’s health, safety and education.

The new law further restricts bonded labour and forced, or partly forced, labour. An employer cannot assign extra work to the domestic worker without his/her free will. In addition, the worker should be provided dignified working conditions and occupational safety and health measures. The Act extends benefits for a domestic worker, including medical care for not only the worker but also his/her dependents. Other benefits include, disablement pension and survivor’s pension under the Punjab Employees Social Security Ordinance 1965.

Under the Act every time a domestic worker is hired, a letter of employment should be drafted, which clearly states the terms and conditions of his/her employment, including the nature of the work and the amount of wages. Domestic workers are also restricted from working for more than eight hours in a day, unless they are paid overtime.

The law further provides a ceiling on weekly working time, which cannot exceed fifty-six hours. Moreover, it entitles them to leave and holidays, wages during leave and holidays, maternity benefits, accommodation, medical examination, vaccination and inoculation.

The employer is required to pay at least the minimum mandated wage.

Finally, the Act establishes a governing body, and requires every domestic worker to make an application for registration, in order to benefit from the fund created under this Act. The body should be notified immediately and should also raise awareness amongst the people about the rights of the domestic worker to avoid further exploitation.

The judgment aims at ensuring that the Act is implemented in letter and spirit, and in doing so the Court has suggested that a day in the year be designated as a Domestic Workers Day. Non-governmental organizations have also been encouraged to come forward and play their due role in creating awareness amongst the general public. Moreover, the verdict suggests that a comprehensive social and electronic media campaign be launched by the government for creating awareness amongst the people.

The judgment is a positive step towards catalysing the legislative process, on behalf of the government without interfering in their affairs. The Domestic Workers Model (D.W. Model), as it has been named, has given birth to a concept called ‘judicial legislation’ which for a country like Pakistan is extremely beneficial and can-do wonders in getting the parliament to perform their fundamental task of legislating.

Pansota is an Advocate High Court practicing in Lahore. He tweets @pansota1