Domestic work: pay not bad, but awaits respect from society

Sanchita Ghimire, Kathmandu (RSS) : Domestic labour remaining as the potential source of good income is yet to be treated with dignity and respect by the society. Domestic workers make up a significant portion even of the global workforce and it is well understood that among the Nepali migrant workers in foreign land, many are involved in this sector. The concern of people associated with this field is that society treats such migrant workers well, but those working as domestic workers at home are treated differently by the same society. Besides, domestic labour remains as a highly feminized field as more female are working as domestic workers either by a choice or compulsion.
Sita Khatri, a single parent, had decided to work as a domestic helper two decades ago as she immediately found no means of earning to feed her children with her husband leaving the family after his second marriage. She moved here and there with the hope of getting an opportunity to enter the (formal) labour market, but in vain. She was not unaware about the stories of struggle of a large number of educated people even the university graduates to get employment in the Kathmandu Valley. She finally quit her efforts to find a formal job, and started cooking food for the family of her houseowner In return, she was free from paying the house rent.
Situation has significantly changed over the time. A wage for domestic work has increased. At that time, employers would pay domestic helpers less. Now, a domestic worker able to work more hours and more work can make a good income. In her initial years, Sita had to work hard to count her monthly income at Rs 10,000 as it was a low-paid job. But these days, her income has been more than double. She provides her morning time to her home and family and spends day hours as a domestic helper. She is personally satisfied what she has been doing, but her concern is that the society takes domestic work as a job with low prestige and treats domestic workers differently.
Demand for domestic labour is on the rise due to a growing number of working women in the Kathmandu Valley as working class women need assistants for help in household chores. Most of the people have taken the domestic labour as the last option after not getting the opportunity of other jobs. However, this sector has started attracting people due to increasing pay in the recent years.
Not only uneducated people, people even pursuing higher education have been working as domestic help along with their studies. One can make up to Rs 30,000 income per month from this. Earlier, they used to complain about low remuneration in this field, but now time has changed. Now, the domestic labourers stress on respect to their works rather than remuneration. They complain that the society has not been able to accept this work as the decent work.
Manisha Puri, who is working as domestic labourer in Basundhara area, said that she has been doing a role of breadwinner for family for the past one decade from this work. Manisha is working as domestic labourer at three houses has been able to send her son for abroad studies from the income she has been making working as domestic labourer. Manisha’s suggestion to those opting for abroad employment or the foreign employment returnees is to find work within the country. She says one can earn as much as one earns working for 18 hours in a foreign country.
According to her, even those women who work as domestic helpers in foreign country do not prefer the same work within the country. And, her advice to these women is again the same- rather than cooking for and look after the old and infirm parents of foreigners it’s better to do the same work in one’s own country. She said doing domestic work within the country is better because one need not leave one’s family behind while working within the country. “The wage is also not that bad and one need not leave behind her family when working as domestic worker within the country,” she explained.
Many students who have come from districts outside Kathmandu Valley to study in schools and colleges here are also found working part-time. They take classes in the morning and work in the afternoon or evening. They do not want to leave part-time job even if they get work in the formal sector, citing they cannot afford to work full-time in office. Although a growing number of youths are working as domestic workers, they do not open up regarding their work when asked what work they are doing due to society’s outlook towards such work as ‘lowly’ work.