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  Table of Contents 
Year : 2021  |  Volume : 25  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 215-219

Living and working conditions of female domestic workers in Pune City

Department of Community Medicine, Bharati Vidyapeeth (DTU) Medical College, Pune, Maharashtra, India

Date of Submission27-Oct-2020
Date of Acceptance09-Sep-2021
Date of Web Publication31-Dec-2021

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Aarati B Pokale
Department of Community Medicine, Bharati Vidyapeeth (DTU) Medical College, Dhankawadi, Pune - 411 043, Maharashtra
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ijoem.ijoem_430_20

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Context: Female domestic workers (FDWs) comprise a significant part of the global workforce in informal sector. Nature of their workplace is such that the work goes unaccounted for in terms of employment policies or legislation. Aims: The aim of this study was to assess socio-demographic and occupational profile of FDWs. Subjects and Methods: A cross-sectional study was conducted in one ward of each of the five geographical zones of Pune city. Domestic workers employed in randomly selected residential societies therein were included in the study. Data collected by interview technique during house visit and general examination done. Statistical Analysis Used: Data were analyzed by using IBM SPSS 25.0 USA statistical software. Percentage, mean, and standard deviation were calculated. Results: Of the 573 FDWs, 62% were between 20 and 40 years, and 35% were educated up to middle school. Three-fourths were currently married. Fifty-one were sole breadwinners. Most FDWs had their own house with electricity and water supply. Almost half had been employed for 5–10 years, working in 3–4 households. Approximately 50% earned between Rs. 4000–8000 per month. Maximum received annual bonus. Conclusions: Working and living conditions of these FDWs are not as pitiful as depicted in previous studies. However, benefits accorded to the formal sector workers are lacking here like fixed days off, pension, and maternity leave.

Keywords: Domestic workers, occupation, unorganized sector

How to cite this article:
Pokale AB, Gothankar JS, Pore PD. Living and working conditions of female domestic workers in Pune City. Indian J Occup Environ Med 2021;25:215-9

How to cite this URL:
Pokale AB, Gothankar JS, Pore PD. Living and working conditions of female domestic workers in Pune City. Indian J Occup Environ Med [serial online] 2021 [cited 2023 Feb 7];25:215-9. Available from:

  Introduction Top

A significant part of the global workforce of the informal sector is domestic workers. Females comprise 80% of the about 67 million domestic workers worldwide.[1]

Migration, poverty, illiteracy, troubled domestic circumstances are forcing women to seek employment. Lack of education and requisite skills of employable nature leaves them with this livelihood option, which they are doing routinely in their own homes.[2] Urbanization, changing family structure, educated women seeking employment and requiring someone to do household chores, all contribute to the increased demand for domestic workers worldwide.[2]

Despite its global size (4%–10%), this 'invisible' sector classifies as an informal sector. The nature of their workplace (home of the employer) makes the work, social and economic contributions go unaccounted for in terms of employment policies or legislation.[1],[3]

International Labour Organisation reports and studies focus on their pitiful living and working conditions: Low wages, excessively long hours, no guaranteed weekly day off, vulnerability to physical, mental and sexual abuse. Financial and job insecurity are faced due to lack of formal contract, unfair dismissals, exclusion from occupational health and safety regulations as well as from Maternity Benefit Act.[1],[2],[3],[4]

As domestic work provides a livelihood option for millions of women across the globe, it becomes socially relevant to study their current living and working conditions. So, we assessed socio-demographic and occupational profile of female domestic workers (henceforth referred to as FDWs) of Pune city.

  Subjects and Methods Top

Community-based cross-sectional study was conducted in Pune city from July 2017–January 2019. Geographical five zones of Pune comprise 15 wards. One ward from each zone was randomly selected (Kasaba-Vishrambaug Wada, Kondhwa-Wanawadi, Nagar Road, Dhankawadi- Sahakarnagar and Kothrud were selected). After selection of the areas, we observed representation from both middle and upper socio-economic classes of employers. A residential society was purposively identified in each ward. We explained the purpose of the study to society chairperson and sought permission to conduct a preliminary health check-up camp for FDWs employed therein. Adjacent society on the right of the selected society was included in the survey till the required sample size for each zone (80 per ward) was achieved. During the camp, the purpose of the study was explained, consent sought and preliminary details like name, address noted and general health check-up performed. Then, we visited the house of those workers who had consented to participate in the study. Visits were arranged at pre-determined times and detailed information was obtained using a predesigned semi-structured questionnaire. This process was followed in all wards. First and second part of the questionnaire sought personal, socio-demographic, family information and housing environment. The last section dealt with occupation details and health problems. This study discusses socio-demographic, housing and selects occupation aspects.

Sample size calculated taking prevalence of 74% (nature of work) and allowable error 5, came to 296.[5] However, 573 FDWs who consented to participate were included in the study. Live in (residing in household of employer) domestic workers were excluded as their working and living conditions would vary from those of part time/live out workers.

The study initiated after Institutional Ethics Committee permission approval.

IBM SPSS 25 USA statistical software was used for analysis. Percentages, mean, and standard deviation were calculated.

  Results Top

We surveyed 573 part time/live out FDWs. [Table 1] enlists the socio-demographic profile.
Table 1: Socio demographic profile of female domestic workers (FDWs) (n=573)

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Of the total, 62% were between 20 and 40 years (mean age 39.29 ± 9.5 years). Approximately 30% were educated up to secondary school. Most FDWs (72%) were migrants from various parts of the state, settled here after marriage.

Of 17% households with male unemployment, 51 FDWs were sole breadwinners. Husbands of 230 of the 555 ever-married females habitually consumed alcohol. Most (84%) stated that caused strife, domestic violence and financial constraints.

Housing and amenities are enlisted in [Table 2]. Most (80%) owned pucca (bricks and cement) house. Overcrowding seen in 75% houses. All used LPG gas for cooking though 91% used wood fires for heating water for bathing.
Table 2: Housing conditions and amenities (n=573)

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Occupation related details are enumerated in [Table 3]. Some FDWs were exclusively engaged for roti (type of Indian bread) making and paid Rs. 1000–2000/month. Almost all (95%) received annual bonus. Very few (21%) were paid extra for any additional work done. Fixed weekly or monthly days off not granted to about 70% but wages were not deducted for unplanned leaves unless they exceeded a week. Almost 65% availed leave on festivals for which wages were rarely deducted.
Table 3: Occupation details of FDWs (n=573)

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Occasional verbal admonishment for work not being up the expectations of the employer was reported by most but no physical or mental abuse. None reported sexual harassment at work. Discriminatory treatment was meted out to a few (<5%). Few were not permitted to use bathroom/toilet in the house even though cleaning them was their job. Less than 1% were told not to come to work during their menstrual cycle. Wages were not deducted for this. Being unorganized sector, none had a written work contract, and thus no formal appointment or relieving/resignation documentation.

  Discussion Top

Most Indian studies have similar findings as ours about age, marital and education status though international studies report lower age range, better education and more single women employed as domestic workers.[5],[6],[7],[8],[9],[10],[11],[12],[13],[14],[15],[16],[17],[18],[19],[20],[21],[22],[23],[24],[25],[26],[27],[28],[29] Older studies quoted more illiteracy.[5],[7],[12],[14],[18],[20],[24],[25] Availability of basic schooling facilities even in rural areas ensures most have got at least primary schooling. But this is not sufficient to guarantee good job opportunities. We saw most take up employment as domestic worker after marriage or migration to bolster the household economy. Rarely females with better educational qualifications seek employment as domestic workers as an easier way to earn good wages.[19] Two plus child norm is seen in most households (commonest reason for third pregnancy being begetting male heir).[10],[18],[22],[25],[29]

Comparatively higher socio-economic class in our study can be attributed to the husband or FDWs earning substantial wages or multiple earning members in some families. Some had agricultural land at native place as a secondary income source. Poor socio-economic and housing conditions have been highlighted in some studies.[22],[27],[30],[31],[32] We saw vastly improved living conditions with almost all owning a pucca (bricks and cement) house in notified slums. All houses in these slums have electric connection, corporation water supply, and common toilet facility. But most houses have inadequate ventilation, lighting or open drains outside houses. Some previous studies had contrasting findings––80% houses having toilets inside the house while one quoted practice of open-air defecation in city area.[7],[13],[17],[18],[24] All households had LPG cylinders available at subsidized rates under government schemes.[5],[17],[25],[28],[32] Burning firewood to heat water (for bathing purpose) is common as most do not have water heaters. A study (Tamil Nadu) quoted most FDWs owning refrigerator, laptop and vehicle.[18] Many in our study owned two-wheeler, mobile phones and television. The former two are looked upon as more of a necessity nowadays and most had obtained loans for vehicle.

Majority FDWs have been working for 6–10 years in the same household/s.[5],[10],[12],[21],[27] Long-term employment develops a bond with the family. Younger FDWs were seen to frequently change jobs (6 months–1 year) for higher earnings.[7],[15],[21],[29],[31],[32] Some admitted that poor job retention gained them reputation as unreliable. Older FDWs worked longer hours but in fewer households and earned lesser wages. Ability to work in multiple households, and earn more, declines with age. Experience is not given much value in this field.

Maximum FDWs worked in 3–4 households for 2–5 h daily.[5],[7],[9],[10],[11],[15],[16],[17],[19],[20],[21],[22],[25],[27],[28],[33],[34] Sweeping and swabbing take up less time so they can work at more jobs. Washing clothes by hand takes 15–30 min, those using washing machine daily finish other tasks simultaneously. So, they worked only an hour or hour and half in each house. Some are engaged only for cooking roti which takes about 10 min and pay is relatively more. Employment exclusively as cook is still not that common in most households.[7],[27],[28] Most are employed for cleaning, washing clothes and utensils.[7],[27],[28] Childminding or caring for elderly means long working hours; (8 h plus), but paid well.[17],[26],[28],[29],[31] Most FDWs were at a liberty to choose their work hours and adjust as per their own family's needs. So, the younger ones preferred to work while their children were at school.

Previous studies invariably comment on pitiful wages.[6],[7],[9],[12],[13],[14],[15],[18],[19],[20],[22],[25],[27],[28],[30],[33],[34] But in current scenario, housemaids are more of a necessity than ever. If both partners are working, engaging a maid for household chores is the need of the hour and this dependency is a powerful bargaining tool for FDWs. In most Indian States, Minimum Fixed Wages Act is not applicable to domestic work in practice in spite of on paper regulations and acts.[11],[12],[13],[14],[15],[22],[28],[29],[32],[33],[34],[35] We came across instances where these women have taken to informally fix rates for various chores undertaken. Domestic workers form unions (colloquially Molkarin Sanghatana) and standardize rates for work. FDWs employed in a residential area quoted similar wage structure based on nature of work and hours. Thus, no employer is underpaying or exploiting them as seen in previous studies.[12],[14],[15],[22],[28],[29],[32],[33],[34],[35] This informal arrangement also prevents discord amongst them as well as employers.

Fixed weekly or monthly paid leave in unorganized sector is rare.[12],[22],[30],[33] Few of our study participants had fixed days off. Most availed leaves (without deduction of wages) as per their convenience. Most often this left the employer in a lurch but is put up with. Unlike some studies, we found employers allowed days/time off for festivals without deducting pay.[23],[28],[35] Extra work preceding festivals, function in the household (spring cleaning, sweet preparations) or guests in the employer's house was put in but overtime not paid.[5],[9],[17],[23],[28],[32],[34],[35] Getting some extra work done seems a way to balance out paid leaves.

Annual bonus was given usually at the time of the Indian festival of Diwali.[5],[7],[9],[33] Few employers also gifted clothes, advanced interest-free loans, paid for the children's education or any medical expenses. Previously, exploitation by denying annual increment for years was seen.[22],[23],[27],[35] Nowadays all FDWs insist on and receive annual increments, again reflecting on the power they wield.

Studies highlight discrimination against FDWs, making them feel inferior and dissatisfied with the work. They were served in separate utensils, made to sit on the floor, and use a separate entrance.[27],[30],[35] Caste system bias or not allowing the maid to enter the kitchen during her menstrual periods was also reported.[27],[30],[35] Education, urbanization, changed mindset and increased dependence on the FDWs has almost rid this discrimination as seen in our study.

All the FDWs staunchly denied any incidences of sexual harassment which have been reported in earlier studies.[7],[9],[18],[26],[27],[29],[32] Physical and verbal abuse commonly seen previously, was not reported by our study participants.[7],[17],[23],[26],[27],[31],[32],[35] Changed times and increased demand have empowered the FDWs and bettered their working conditions.

The findings of our study have revealed that although the domestic work sector is informal or unorganized, the working and living conditions are not as pitiful as previous studies have depicted. Increased demand of domestic workers has led to more bargaining power in their hands and wages and nature of work seems to have benefitted accordingly.

Empowering domestic workers by bringing the work sector under formal or organized sector and thus making them all eligible for social security like healthcare benefits, minimum wages act, and maternity benefit is the need of the hour. Some states have initiated this but it should extend countrywide. Fixed daily work hours and leave pattern will benefit employee and employer. Also providing them with official identity cards, drawing up employment contracts would be a good step to ensure recognition of their contribution to the nation's economy.

Limitations of the study

We have covered four geographical locations of the city in an attempt to get a variety of socio-economic strata of employers that reflects in the occupational features. However, in-depth comparison of domestic in extreme interiors or peripheries of the city, vastly or sparsely populated areas will reap more data on the living and occupational conditions of the FDWs.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

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  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3]


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