What Happens When Domestic Workers Ask for A Bonus Instead of a Baksheesh?

While people in formal employment or those in the organised sector receive cash bonuses from their employers and organisations around the festive season, this is not the case for domestic workers and other unorganised workers.

92% of the working population in India work in the so-called informal sector (NCEUS 2007). Along with garment, construction, and restaurant workers, domestic workers are among the largest groups within urban informal sector workers. They are overwhelmingly a female workforce, and their work is undervalued partly due to its “naturalisation” as women’s work.

During festivals, old saris and clothes are given to them as “baksheesh,” occasionally (and usually only when requested) with a token amount in cash.

In 2015, a domestic worker who was part of a union in Bengaluru returned the sweets given by her employer and asked for a cash bonus, equivalent to a month’s salary. Another one turned down a sari and asked for a cash bonus. Encouraged by these actions, the domestic workers’ union encouraged all domestic workers to take a pamphlet with their demands to their employers.

What happened next?



Scholarship on domestic workers has established how women’s work is invisibilised within the household; the lack of legislations that guarantee the welfare of domestic workers, including minimum wages; and the need to reconceptualise the home as a place of work.

The Campaign for Bonus (CfB) is a cultural-political struggle to make a shift from a paternalistic relationship symbolised by baksheesh and towards a new conceptualisation of the work done by domestic workers symbolised by the demand for a bonus. 

Employers everywhere need to stop making pious, sentimental, and individualistic gestures and instead affirm that domestic workers are persons and workers with rights.

Rajesh Joseph, Roshni Lobo, and Balmurli Natrajan explore this issue in their article "Precarity, Class, and Collective Action among Domestic Workers in Bengaluru: Between ‘Baksheesh’ and ‘Bonus’" published in Vol 53, No 45 of the EPW.

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Curated by: Sohnee Harshey [sohnee@epw.in]

Video: Parimal Chahande

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