Most of the industries in Pakistan pay the least attention to the most important resource at hand, its human resource. The situation is even more dire in industries which either operate informally or their recognition is lesser known to all its stakeholders. The domestic help industry in Pakistan is one of these less fortunate industries.
Domestic labor currently constitutes the largest sub-sector of the informal economy with little or no legal reforms to formalize the industry at a provincial or federal level. Since there are no defined legal parameters for this service, it remains largely undetected and undocumented. Recent reports in the media suggest that the number of domestic helpers is close to 8.5 million with a majority of women in this service, however, the Domestic Workers Bill 2013 (that only extends to the capital city territory) states that no accurate figure exists for the number of domestic workers currently employed in Pakistan.
While there is some movement in the country to develop a legal framework that formalizes the industry, there is very little being done on providing training in this profession. Many households from higher socio-economic sectors of Pakistan import professionally trained domestic help from other countries (i.e. Philippines, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh), which indicates a demand for trained domestic helpers. Separately, in a country where there is a large number of working age population, professionally trained and certified domestic helpers can be instrumental in increasing labor force participation as well as in formalizing the domestic help industry.
Aatiqa Lateef, CEO of TAF Foundation (a section 42, not-for-profit organization), strongly believes that this needs to change and has taken the initiative in making it so. As a result, the award winning TAFF Vocational Training Institute, is the first of its kind vocational training facility, which has recently launched the TAF Foundation’s program geared towards training and certifying underprivileged women as professional cooks and housekeepers. These women are also provided basic training in legal and financial empowerment which transforms them into respectable and responsible citizens of society. However, simply training the underprivileged is not enough so through the TAFF-VT placement center, its graduates are facilitated in securing employment at premium salaries/living index wages, allowing them to earn professional salaries for their professional skill sets.
TAFF – VTI not only provides free training to its students, TAFF-VTI also provides students with transportation to and from the institute along with a monthly stipend. Most importantly, TAFF-VTI facilitates placement of its graduates through development of employment channels and formal written agreements which ensures that the rights and responsibilities of the employer and employee are protected and understood by both parties. This is the first step in formalizing this very important sector in Pakistan that has altogether been neglected.
Ms. Sultana is one such example of the TAF – VTI program. She joined TAFF-VTI as a student in its pilot batch and was trained in cooking & housekeeping for four months to international standards by a professional and experienced faculty. Sultana now works for a very respectable monthly salary at a household where she observes a standard 48-hour work week with provisions for leaves and overtime. She is just one of the many stories Aatiqa and her team bear witness to day in and day out at TAFF-VTI.
Sultana is a resident of Millat Nagar in Karachi, she says she worked for long hours at households for a mere monthly salary of PKR 2,000. The arrangement was based on a verbal agreement between herself and the employer and she had no idea what her rights were as an employee. Sultana is one of the many domestic workers in Pakistan who enter into employment based on verbal agreements. There are no written contracts and no fixed wage structures for full-time, part-time or live-in employees in this line of work. Neither are there are any job qualifications that a worker needs to obtain to enter into this job market. One of the main reasons for this service remaining in the informal sector is because domestic helpers are treated as an unskilled labor. Majority of women in this sector are those who are struck by poverty, illiteracy or lack of resources.
TAFF-VTI is working to institutionalize the domestic help industry in Pakistan by creating a skilled workforce qualified to earn premium salaries, and fulfilling the requirements of employers seeking domestic help who are trained at international standards. Similar innovative initiatives are required in the country at this time in order to uplift the standard of service provided by the working class of Pakistan, while creating a positive impact in the lives of these workers and their families. A change of mindset is also the need of the hour for domestic employers. ‘Treat your employees the way you expect your employers to treat you’, says Aatiqa Lateef.
By Majda Malik, Academic Team, TAF Foundation.