Domestic Workers in Pakistan

Domestic work is part of the huge informal sector in Pakistan. Provincial Employees Social Security Ordinance governs the domestic workers rights.

Is there any law in Pakistan, which governs domestic workers?


Domestic work is part of the huge informal sector (around 73% of total Pakistani economy, as indicated by official sources) and thus the existing labor laws are not applicable to this sector.

There are no clear estimates of the total number of domestic workers in the country, however, according to a study, every fourth household in the country hires domestic worker and majority of these workers is females (especially children). Moreover, according to an ILO Study, around 4-10% of total employment in developing countries is in the domestic work sector.

The labor laws mention domestic workers only twice. The Provincial Employees Social Security Ordinance 1965 (applicable in Balochistan, ICT, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab) requires an employer to provide health care (including maternity care) to the full time domestic workers (Section 55-A). Similar provision is also found in  Sindh Employees’ Social Security Act 2016 (section 59).  The Minimum Wages Ordinance of 1961 (applicable in Balochistan, ICT, and Punjab) also includes domestic workers in the definition of workers however government has not notified the minimum wages as applicable to these workers under this law. No such provision is found in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Minimum Wages Act 2013 and Sindh Minimum Wages Act 2015. 

The first bill on domestic workers - Domestic Workers (Employment Rights) Act 2013 - in order to bring them under the jurisdiction of labour laws, was drafted and presented in Senate in 2013. It was again submitted in 2015 and has been passed by the Senate in 2017. The Bill is now under discussion by the relevant National Assembly Committee. The Bill aims to protect the rights of the domestic workers, to regulate their employment and conditions of service and to provide them social security, safety, health facility and welfare. It provides domestic workers with all those rights available to other formal sector workers and creates a special domestic workers welfare fund. 

Punjab has already announced a domestic workers policy in 2015 which provides for establishment of a Domestic Workers Registration Authority to register worker however no such authority has been constituted yet. 

How does the Provincial Employees Social Security Ordinance define domestic work?


According to this law, domestic servant is “any person working whole-time in connection with the work of any household for any consideration, whether in cash or in kind”.

This law requires an employer, employing a domestic worker, to provide his domestic servant with full medical care at his own cost. However, there is no mechanism provided in this law to check as to whether an employer is following this requirement or not.  

Can domestic workers form unions?


In accordance with article 17 of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, “every citizen has the right to form associations or unions, subject to reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of sovereignty or integrity of Pakistan, public order or morality”. In view of above, domestic workers are free to form associations/unions. The first even union of domestic workers under the name of Domestic Workers’ Union has been registered in Lahore under the provisions of the Punjab Industrial Relations Act, 2010 (early 2015). This Union currently has more than 2000 female domestic workers as its members.

What are the common types of domestic work in Pakistan?


Domestic work employs a large part of female workers. The two most common types are child domestic labor and bonded/forced labor. Child domestic labor is when a child (under the age of 14 years) is employed to perform a work in household. According to an ILO study (2004), there are 264,000 child domestic workers in Pakistan. Most of these children are employed as bonded/forced laborers working under the debt bondage. These children or women are working to pay off the debt accrued by their parents or family members.

Broadly, they can be divided in two main groups: live-in and live-out (day based and task specific). According to the Labour Force Survey 2014-15, there are 0.464 million domestic workers in the country. Of these, 0.1 million are live-in domestic workers while 0.364 million are either day based or task specific.*  

As per ILO considerations, this type of domestic work, where a child is working under debt bondage, working for long hours, during the night and is unreasonably confined to the premises of an employer, is the worst form of child labor.

ILO Convention 189 requires the members to set a minimum age for domestic work. This minimum age must be consistent with ILO core conventions on child labour, i.e., Convention 138 and 182 and cannot be lower than the general minimum age. Convention 189 and its Recommendation (201) also suggest identifying hazardous domestic work and prohibiting children under 18 from such work. The child rights organizations have been demanding in Pakistan to include child domestic labour in the list of hazardous works and prohibit employment of children under 18 in domestic work. 

What are the issues faced by domestic workers in Pakistan and worldwide?

The domestic workers face the following issues.

  1. Long and unlimited hours of work
  2. Heavy workload
  3. Lack of legal protection
  4. Violence and abuse at work, either physical, psychological or sexual
  5. Forced labor/child labor and trafficking of domestic workers
  6. No minimum wage protection and low salaries
  7. No labour inspection and law enforcement
  8. Weaker collective bargaining position
  9. Poor living quarters
  10. Insufficient food
  11. Lack of privacy

* www.dawn.com/news/1320018/domestic-workers-left-out-of-legal-cover

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