The plight of the globe’s domestic workers
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The plight of the globe’s domestic workers

Indian diplomat case highlights the difficulties they face writes Susan Froetschel for Asia Sentinel.

The arrest of an Indian diplomat in New York for lying on a visa form and underpaying a household nanny at a time when the United States examines its own growing inequality. And India’s vehement defense has put a spotlight on cultural differences for treatment of domestic workers.

The Indian consulate officer, Devyani Khobragade, was removed from New York Thursday without prosecution despite a criminal indictment by the US attorney’s office. Khobragade is to be transferred to the Ministry of External Affiars Office in New Delhi. The US State Department acknowledged that the woman has full diplomatic immunity.

On one side, families in many undeveloped countries rely heavily on live-in household staff to cook, clean, watch children and tend the elderly. Families in the United States and much of the developed world typically do without live-in domestic servants, relying on dishwashers and other modern conveniences as well as government-regulated institutions for the care of children or the elderly.

New York is especially sensitive to rights of domestic workers, enacting a bill of rights for this class of workers in 2010, the first law of its kind in the nation. The law requires overtime for live-in employees, one day of rest per week and three paid days of rest per year, as well as written policies agreed to by both parties.

Lifting standards of domestic workers to those of other workers is the aim of the Domestic Workers Convention, a global treaty in force since September that covers minimum wage, access to courts, regular payments, annual leaves and rest periods. The convention also aims to abolish child labor, harassment and abuse, and unsafe working conditions. “Without legal protection, domestic workers are at the mercy of their employers,” notes Human Rights Watch.

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