LAHORE - The Lahore High Court on Thursday ordered the Punjab government to ban the employment of kids under the age of 15 as domestic workers, and make expeditious legislative measures on the issue.

Hearing a petition, Justice Jawad Hassan lauded the Punjab government for starting legislation on the domestic workers’ rights. He directed the government to legislate on the issue expeditiously.

After the Punjab government’s representative presented a draft of Domestic Workers Bill 2018 in the court, the judge ruled on the petition filed in March 2018 questioning the failure of the then Punjab government to implement the rights of domestic workers.

The court remarked that the rights of domestic workers have been violated ever since Pakistan was established. He directed the provincial lawmakers to regulate the wage structure and working hours of domestic help.

The government’s representative told the court that as part of the proposed The Punjab Domestic Workers Bill 2018, domestic workers’ shifts will be limited to eight hours, while special courts and committees would be established to resolve their issues.

The court was also told that the proposed law shall proscribe the employment of under-15 children as domestic help. On which the court expressed satisfaction and termed it a positive measure.

The judge appreciated that for the first time, such legislation is being made and that the Pakistan is one of those few countries where domestic workers would be regulated under a law and child labour below 15 would be strictly prohibited.

The petitioner’s counsel Sheraz Zaka Advocate argued that when workers in commercial establishments were being regulated under Punjab Industrial Relations Act 2010, there must also be a law for domestic workers. He argued that domestic workers are being discriminately dealt with and also subjected to torture by the employers.

The law officer submitted that under Domestic Workers Act 2018, there would be dispute resolution committees in every district and labour courts as well. The judge also appreciated the fact the wages of the domestic workers would be notifie d by the Punjab government at par those working in commercial establishments.

The judge remarked that detailed verdict would be issued soon on the petition. The judge observed that the international law ‘Domestic Workers Convention’ is of highly persuasive value although Pakistan has not ratified it.

Section 3 of the The Punjab Domestic Workers Bill 2018 says,”No child under the age of 15 years shall be allowed to work in household in any capacity.” Section 4 says, “Domestic workers shall not be employed under the bonded labour system or forced or partly forced labor system or on manual scavenging; no domestic worker shall be discriminated in recruitment, continuance of employment, deciding wages, benefits and other rights on grounds of religion, race, caste, creed, sex, ethnic background, and place of birth/residence/domicile/ migrant or any other reason; the domestic worker shall be addressed as “domestic worker”, not “servant”; no extra work may be assigned to the domestic worker without free will of the domestic worker and extra remuneration;  the employer shall provide dignified working conditions and occupational safety and health measures; and the benefits for domestic worker shall include Sickness Benefit, Maternity Benefit, Medical care during sickness and maternity, Medical care of dependents, Injury Benefit, Disablement pension and Survivor’s pension.”

After commencement of the Act, the proposed law shall also ensure that every employment or appointment of a domestic worker is subject to issuance of letter of employment in the prescribed Form showing the terms and conditions of his employment including, nature of work and amount of wages etc.

Besides weekly rests, the domestic workers shall also be entitled to upto 8 leaves with full wages and 8 without wages; 10 festival leaves while a female domestic worker shall be entitled to maternity benefits with a minimum amount equivalent to six weeks wages.

In 2015, the LHC had already instructed the government to legislate on the rights of domestic workers but the government orders could not be implemented. The court then had constituted a commission consisting of the labour department secretary, a representative from Unicef and three lawyers to ensure that the provincial government take legislative steps to protect domestic workers’ rights.