M A I N   N E W S

sexual harassment at workplace draft bill
House committee, govt differ on inclusion of domestic workers
Aditi Tandon/TNS

New Delhi, December 8
Four million domestic workers of India got a shot in the arm today with the parliamentary committee examining the draft Bill on protection of women from sexual harassment at workplace negating the government stand of excluding them from the law’s ambit.

The Ministry of Women and Child Development, which piloted the Bill, ignored this category citing practical difficulties in implementation within households where codes of conduct don’t exist.

But the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Human Resource Development, after year-long deliberations on the law, today slammed the Government’s move saying privacy of households could not be used as an excuse to shield uncalled for acts against domestic workers.

In its report to the Parliament today, the committee reminded the Ministry that India had signed the International Labour Organisation’s Convention 189 for Decent Work for Domestic Workers. “We are in full agreement for inclusion of domestic workers in the Bill. Expecting such a vulnerable group to take recourse to the IPC in a sexual harassment case is not viable,” it said.

The panel has asked the Centre to change the draft law to name house owners in the definition of employers; domestic workers in the definition of employees; vehicles used to move women from workplace to home and back in the definition of workplace; and exclude penalty provision in case of false and malicious complaints.

The draft Bill’s definition of a workplace includes offices in Government, private sector and places a woman visits by air, rail, land or sea during the course of her job.

To negate the ministry’s stand on domestic workers, the committee depended on the National Commission for Women (NCW) which argued that the Government’s privacy of home argument was unfounded as the enactment of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 had busted the myth that legal scrutiny could not be offered in homes.

On inclusion of domestic workers, the committee got letters of support from Punjab, Gujarat and the Sonia Gandhi-headed National Advisory Council. The ministry for its part, strangely, gave the NCW a go by when it finalised the draft bill titled “The Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill 2010” and got it approved from the Cabinet in November 2010. This despite NCW’s involvement in drafting of the law from 1997 when the Supreme Court first laid down the guidelines in the Vishaka judgment. The NCW’s last draft on the Bill included domestic workers.Today the parliamentary committee restored NCW’s stand on several counts and even rejected the Ministry’s title for the Bill as one that overly stressed protection aspect and projected women as victims. “The preventive aspect as mandated by the Apex Court must be reflected in the bill. It should accordingly be titled The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Bill 2010,” said the panel backing NCW’s title. The Bill is the first comprehensive law covering every workplace in organised and unorganised sectors and contains provisions to protect women from acts of sexual harassment irrespective of whether she is employed or not. It means women who enter workplaces as clients, apprentices, daily wagers would also get protection.





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