Domestic workers’ bank accounts can solve many problems

In Bangladesh, there is still no formal market for domestic workers. Photo: Collected


In Bangladesh, there is still no formal market for domestic workers. Photo: Collected

A few days ago an elderly woman came to my office to open a bank account for her domestic help. In addition to a monthly salary, she planned to deposit a set amount each month to make sure her domestic helper had a lump sum in her bank account after she retired. The woman was unaware of much of the modern banking world. Nevertheless, his intentions were noble.

However, opening an account was not easy. Asked about the purpose of the bank account, the woman told a sad story to her banker. She made a verbal agreement with a man before employing a young girl. The woman had to confirm a monthly payment to her father, in addition to organizing food, shelter and clothing for the girl. The poor girl was apparently used as an income generation tool by her father, who had meanwhile fathered three more children. Now, as the girl is on the verge of reaching adulthood, she is legally allowed to make her own decisions about income and employment. It was with this in mind that the woman came to the bank.

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Bangladesh’s domestic helper protection and welfare policy — approved in 2015 — requires registration and service contracts for all domestic workers. It instructs the Ministry of Labor and Employment to provide domestic workers with access to the provident fund created for their financial assistance, insurance and scholarships. However, since the policy has not yet been implemented, the right of domestic workers to the fund is not legally enforceable.

“She loves us as she loves her bidet.” – it was the evaluation of a maid about her employer drawn in the famous drama by Jean Genet entitled “The maids”. This rather one-sided view has gained even more ground in the era of foreclosure. A woman who had looked after a family 24 hours a day … suddenly discovered that the gate to her employer’s house was locked.

Workers in our RMG sector, whose minimum wage is set at $ 94 per month against the international standard of $ 188, are considered one of the most vulnerable groups in the world. However, a survey conducted by the National Union of Domestic Workers found that there is a more vulnerable class among domestic workers in Bangladesh, who earn an average of $ 59 per month. According to a 2011 study by the Domestic Workers Rights Network, around two million domestic workers are employed in our homes, many of them young girls from poor families. Bangladeshi domestic workers seem unique in the world, as they perform almost any role that a household can demand. They work as housekeepers, nannies, cooks, housekeepers, patient attendants, gardeners, etc. The government could make it compulsory to open bank accounts. Bangladesh adopted its national social security strategy in 2015, providing a good number of social security benefits, domestic workers remain off its radar.

In Bangladesh, there is still no formal market for domestic workers. Although many online recruitment agencies have mushroomed recently, complaints of cheating abound. Due to the immense poverty that prevails in many parts of our country, many domestic helpers seek some sort of shelter in the homes of their relatively wealthy relatives, neighbors or friends. Many of our homes serve as informal training centers for domestic workers.

In 2016, the government of Bangladesh launched its overseas employment policy to protect the rights of migrant workers. However, government policy lags behind when it comes to protecting the rights of domestic workers. For example, the Domestic Domestic Registration Ordinance 1961 is there to protect employers, not workers. Domestic work, which has been recognized as a profession by our labor law, is not yet properly formalized.

It is not easy to change the informal market for domestic workers to an organized market. And forced transformation could lead to disaster.

The government could make it compulsory to open bank accounts unless the domestic help market is mature enough. The bank account could be opened with a letter from the employer, stipulating the terms of employment, including salary, time off, etc. As a result, a reliable database could be built up for domestic workers. Since girls or boys from the age of 12 can be hired under the policy, a special account for minors in this regard can be approved by the Bangladesh Bank. It could help solve a lot of the problems we have in this industry.

Mohammad Kazi Mamun is a banker.

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