Domestic Work in Sri lanka
What says the national law about domestic workers, what are the rights?
The legal situation regarding domestic workers is somewhat complex in Sri Lanka.
Two existing, pre-independence laws applying to domestic workers, are considered obsolete as modern working conditions have changed drastically.
The 2 laws are;
- The Domestic Servants Ordinance of 1871 (Amended 1936) and
- The Chauffeur's Ordinance of 1912.
As these 2 laws are now out of use, the sector of domestic work is governed under some applicable provisions of the Industrial Disputes Act, as private work arrangements are also covered under this law.
However, a majority of people, including trade unions, are unaware that some provisions of the Industrial Disputes Act can be used by domestic workers.
Under this law, verbal agreements can be considered binding and as such, domestic workers, who often do not have written contracts, can seek legal relief. However, this law only provides limited legal rights for domestic workers.
Therefore, Sri Lanka is currently looking into the possibility of the ratification of the International Labour Organisation's (ILO) Domestic Workers Convention of 2011. The Government has so far not made an official policy announcement whether Sri Lanka will ratify this agreement or not.
Who is a domestic worker?
The definition is somewhat unclear as there is no specific, functional law, pertaining to domestic workers.
However, domestic work can be defined to mean work performed in, or for, a household.
A Domestic worker is a person engaged in domestic work within an employment relationship.
Under the Industrial Disputes Act even non-regular work within the domestic/household context can be considered domestic work as long as an employment relationship can be established.
Where can the domestic worker complain if there is under payment or any other problem?
Domestic workers can complain to the Department of Labour and/or the Commissioner of Labour and under the Industrial Disputes Act can bring a case to the Labour Tribunal.
In the case of physical abuse domestic workers can use the standard laws of the country and can complain to the police and resort to legal action, if desired.
- Wages of domestic workers differ depending on the location of employment. Wage rates in Colombo tend to be higher than in other parts of the country.
- Domestic cooks are paid around Rs 500 per day.
- Live-in maids, the most common form of domestic employment in Sri Lanka, are paid around Rs 8,000 per month, or more depending on the employers capabilities.
- Caretakers and private drivers are also considered domestic workers. Wage rates may change depending on the location and work experience.
Legal rights not available to domestic workers
Domestic workers, although captured under the Industrial Disputes Act, do not benefit from the Wages Board ordinance. Therefore, there is no minimum wage officially stipulated for any category of domestic workers. This means workers such as household maids, cooks, private/household drivers, caretakers must bargain for their pay.
Domestic workers are also not covered under any of the national social security laws. This means employers are not under obligation to make payments to the Employees Trust Fund for the worker and they do not have to pay gratuity even after many years of work.
Employment of children as domestic workers
At present, the minimum age of employment in all sectors is 14 years. The employment of children under the age of 14 is illegal is Sri Lanka.
Employment of children, particularly little girls, as domestic workers, in Colombo, has reduced sharply over the last few years following better implementation of child protection laws in the country. However, both girls and boys from poor families, particularly from the plantation community, continue to be employed as domestic workers by households in Colombo and other urban areas.
In addition to existing domestic laws, Sri Lanka has signed the:
- ILO Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (No. 182);
- ILO Minimum Age for Employment Convention (No. 138);
- ILO Forced Labour Convention (No. 29);
- ILO Abolition of Forced Labour Convention (No. 105);
- UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).