Working with dignity and freedom

Anupa talks about how informed migration, fair recruitment practices can play a pivotal role in ensuring decent work for many migrant women workers like her.

Feature | 14 July 2016

“I felt trapped. I wish that no one has to go through the kind of abuse I went through. Many people leave from my village and never return. They simply vanish.” says Anupa Rajini Lakda, a 25-year-old peer educator, in migration-prone Bishakhatanga village of Mandar block of Rural Ranchi in Jharkhand. ILO-DFID’s Work in Freedom programme is being implemented here by the Child in Need Institute (CINI) of Jharkhand.

Anupa used to be a migrant domestic worker. She says that many girls and women in her village want to leave for big cities like Delhi and work as domestic workers. It is mostly the close relatives who make such job offers. She too went to Delhi on the recommendation of her aunt.

At home Anupa’s situation was gloomy. She used to be severely beaten up by her mother and wanted a better life. Her father though was compassionate and he encouraged Anupa to live-in with her future husband Anjelou. Soon, Anjelou too migrated to Punjab and later Bangalore to work as a domestic help. Anjelou’s aunt in the meantime asked Anupa to go to Delhi and pursue domestic work. Anupa agreed readily and decided to drop out of her school. Today, she deeply regrets that decision. “Had I known that I could work as an Anganwadi worker here in my own village I would have finished my education.”

Anupa’s Aunt left her with a placement agency in Anand Vihar, Delhi. She started working at a household in Ghaziabad (Uttar Pradesh). Her employer made her work more than 16 hours a day under pathetic conditions. She was given very little food and rest. Anupa somehow mustered up the courage and ran away. She never got paid for her previous work by the employer. “It is difficult to find good employers. You need to be lucky to find one, I think”.

Today, Anupa has a new-found confidence and she breaks into a smile often. She feels empowered after undergoing many trainings under the “Work in Freedom” programme. She now understands why it is important for women -- seeking work in cities as domestic workers – to be assertive. Where will they be placed, what is nature of the work, what are the wages, how are the working conditions are some key things the worker should be aware of. They should also gather all facts regarding their salary – whether it will be paid by the employers directly or it will be routed through a placement agency. All this information helps one make informed choices.

“I don’t want that women or girls from my village, who are naïve and lured by dubious placement agents, be misinformed. Before migrating they must know about their rights and they should be in a position to protect themselves if they face abusive conditions”.

For millions of poor people in South Asia, migration is an important alternative to the realities at home. People migrate in hope of getting decent jobs. India is both a source and a destination country for migrant workers. In recent past there has been high incidences of interstate migration. Women come to cities to work as domestic workers, construction workers, security guards, hospitality staff and garment factory employees. While some are gainfully employed many face extreme challenges. Many are also trafficked for labour.

Even when these workers reach cities safely, the conditions of work in these sectors are not necessarily decent. There have been reports of abuse, including low or unpaid wages, no weekly time off, forced overtime, unsafe workplaces, deception about nature of work, abusive working and living conditions, isolation, sexual violence, threats and intimidation, debt bondage, and many times confiscation of the identity documents of the workers. This points towards the fact that forced labour persists.

The DFID-ILO Partnership programme “Work in Freedom” programme is making pilot intervention in South Asian countries of origin (Bangladesh, India and Nepal) and in selected destination countries (India, Jordan and Lebanon) to demonstrate an integrated approach to reduce vulnerability to trafficking of women and girls. The programme in India – in coordination with Ministry of Labour and Employment - works through a network of social partners and central trade unions.

So far more than 170,000 women in Bangladesh, Nepal and India have already benefited from interventions such as door to door visits, orientation sessions, referral services, pre-decision counselling sessions, street drama, life skill training and other outreach initiatives. These initiatives help women like Anupa to gain information about migration and make sound livelihood choices.