The ministry of women and child development will now have to devise a solution to bring women employed as domestic helps under the ambit of its proposed legislation to protect them from sexual harassment at workplaces.
Earlier this week, the National Advisory Council led by Sonia Gandhi wrote to the ministry recommending that the Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment at the workplace be extended to domestic workers.
In addition, the NAC wants that Clause 14 of the Bill be dropped - which deals with punishment for false or malicious complaint and false evidence.
It has also recommended introduction of clear guidelines for district officers in constitution and functioning of local complaints committee, which the proposed bill provides for.
The original draft bill had included domestic workers but this feature was dropped by the time this bill was introduced in Parliament.
The ministry at the times pointed out that this was primarily because no guidelines exist or can be created to govern acceptable conduct at the workplace which would be an individual's home.
It said it would create difficult situations when local complaints committees went knocking on the doors of individuals because their maids were complaining of sexual harassment; and that if both sides had entirely conflicting versions, the absence of conduct guidelines would result in the matter still having to be taken to the local courts to start with.
The decision to drop domestic workers from the ambit of the bill, however, came in for severe criticism from NGOs and several other stakeholders.
The NAC making a strong case for inclusion of domestic workers has said "This is important…. Domestic workers constitute a large section of women workers in India today. Most domestic workers are poor, illiterate, unskilled and come from vulnerable communities and backward areas."
"They are underpaid and ill-treated as domestic work is undervalued and poorly regulated. Their work place being the confines of private homes, domestic workers, especially live-in workers, are prone to sexual harassment and abuse, without access to any complaint mechanism or remedial measures. This being so, exclusion of domestic workers from the purview of the Bill enhances their vulnerability and denies them protection from abuse," the NAC said.
A senior WCD ministry official told Hindustan Times on Monday, "Many people wrote to us protesting and some of them must have written to the National Advisory Council too… We are considering the recommendations which the NAC sent us on 20th (January)… We are considering it."
After it was introduced in the last session of Parliament was referred to a Standing Committee and is strictly speaking out of the hands of the WCD ministry now. It remains to be seen now how the ministry deals with the situation.
What the NAC wants:
1. Include domestic workers in the bill
2. Remove Clause 14 on punishing people for false complaints
3. Set guidelines for the appointment and functioning of local complaints committees, which deal with situations where internal committees are not possible.