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The Legal Recognition of Unpaid Work: Exploring India's Judicial Approach to Housewives' Contributions

Actor Kangana Ranaut criticized Kamal Hasan's party, Makkal Needhi Maiam, for proposing salaries for housewives, stating, "we don't need salary for being the Queens of our own little kingdom." However, the reality paints a different picture. According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)'s Time Use Survey, Indian women spend up to 352 minutes per day on domestic work, 577 percent more than men's 52 minutes, and significantly more than women in South Africa and China.

The OECD study highlights that household production, primarily undertaken by women, is a vital economic activity, and neglecting to acknowledge it would underestimate women's economic contribution. In India, women spend 4.3 to 5 hours more on unpaid work than men, with men dedicating more time to leisure activities like sleeping and watching TV. National Statistical Office (NSO)'s Time Use survey further reveals that 82% of women in surveyed households serve as homemakers, compared to only 27% of men, spending an average of 7 hours per day on unpaid domestic and caregiving tasks.

History of Seeking Wages for Housework:

The notion of wages for housework gained attention during the third National Women's Liberation Conference[1] in Manchester, England. Prior to this, in 1898, Charlotte Perkins Gilman advocated for paid housework in her book "Women and Economics". In the mid-70s, men supporting this idea formed the Payday Men's Network, collaborating with organizations like the International Wages for Housework Campaign and the Global Women Strike in London. Meanwhile, countries such as Cambodia[2] and Venezuela[3] recognized the value of housewives' work through constitutional provisions. Inspired by these initiatives, Poland established a consultative council in response to protests in 2020, aimed at developing legislation addressing wages for housewives.[4]

The International Wages for Housework Campaign (IWFHC)[5] is a group of women who are working together to fight for recognition and payment for all the work that people do to care for others, whether it's in their homes or outside. It was started in 1972 by Mariarosa Dalla Costa, Silvia Federici, Brigitte Galtier, and Selma James, who were the first to demand wages for housework.

At their meetings, they focus on those who have the least power globally - like mothers, housewives, and domestic workers who don't get paid for their work. They also include subsistence farmers and community workers who aren't paid. They believe that demanding wages for this kind of work is important and it's a way for different groups to come together and challenge the power imbalances in society.

Between 1974 and 1976, three autonomous groups emerged in the UK, US, and Canada, advocating for similar goals: Black Women for Wages for Housework (now Women of Colour in the Global Women's Strike), Wages Due Lesbians (now Queer Strike), and The English Collective of Prostitutes. The movement achieved a significant milestone in 1975 when the United Nations passed a resolution urging member countries to measure and value unpaid work in national accounts.

On March 8, 2020, in observance of International Women's Day, the International Wages for Housework Campaign (IWFHC) called for a global women's strike. Despite the presence of Global Women's Strike (GWS) coordinators in India, the movement lacks widespread grassroots support. Notably, the National Housewives Association's attempt to be recognized as a trade union in 2010 received little attention and was ultimately rejected.[6]

In 2012, Krishna Tirath, then Minister for Women and Child Development, sparked attention by considering the provision of salary for housework to wives from husbands. However, this proposal never came to fruition.

The International Labour Organisation sees housework as non-economic and considers homemakers' work voluntary. In India, societal pressures often push women to give up career aspirations, though some choose to stay home and care for their families. More Indian women now work outside the home, but many still manage households and engage in money-making activities.

Shouldn't they rightfully be compensated for their work? Venezuela pays homemakers 80% of the minimum wage, helping women financially. Arguments against paying for housework suggest it could further confine women to the home, but it could also empower them to become financially independent. Who would pay and its impact on the economy are valid concerns, but if Venezuela, Cambodia can do it, can't other countries, including India, explore this option too?

Indian Judiciary for recognition of housework:

Prabha Kotiswaran, a law and justice professor at King's College London analyzed approximately 200 cases spanning from 1968 to 2021 under The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 (Act 59 of 1988) governing road transport vehicles and penalties for reckless driving. She observed that Indian courts have pioneered a groundbreaking legal framework regarding compensating for unpaid housework.

Judges have quantified the value of the household labor performed by women who lost their lives in road accidents and have awarded compensation to their dependents. This valuation considers factors such as opportunity cost, minimum wages for various skill levels, educational background, age, and whether the deceased had children.[7]

According to Professor Kotiswaran, the earliest instance of such compensation dates back to a 1966 ruling. In this case, the court determined that the expenses incurred by the husband in "maintaining" his wife would have equated to her hypothetical salary; thus, no compensation was granted to him.[8]

In the case of Mali Devi v. Sukhbir Singh, (1979) 2 SSC 687, concerning a motor accident claim, the Delhi High Court evaluated the case of a woman who perished in an accident. The court awarded a monthly compensation of 150 rupees, considering her role in supporting six family members and assisting her husband with farm work.

In the case of Lata Wadhwa v. State of Bihar, (2001) 8 SCC 197, the court established the hypothetical value for the services provided by a housewife. It determined that homemakers between the ages of 34 to 59 would be attributed a notional value of Rs 3000 per month, while elderly women would receive an amount of Rs 1600 per month.

In a case brought forth by Mr. Pravin Jagannath Bhalerao against the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation in 2020, a tribunal granted compensation of 1.7 million rupees ($23,263; �17,019) to the relatives of a 33-year-old homemaker who passed away in a road accident, after fixing her notional salary at 5,000 rupees a month. "Loss of future prospects" is among the heads covered while awarding compensations in motor accident cases.[9]

In the case of Kirti and another vs. Oriental Insurance Company Limited, (2021) 2 SCC 166, the Supreme Court emphasized the significance of establishing notional income for housewives. The court highlighted that determining such income acknowledges the contributions of homemakers to society and the economy, irrespective of whether their role is by choice or societal norms. It signifies the value of their labor, services, and sacrifices, reflecting changing attitudes and fulfilling international law obligations. Importantly, it aligns with the constitutional vision of social equality and upholding dignity for all individuals.

In Arvind Kumar Pandey & Ors vs. Girish Pandey & Ors (2024) case, SC opined that, "Assuming that the deceased was not employed, it cannot be disputed that she was a homemaker. Her direct and indirect monthly income, in no circumstances, could be less than the wages admissible to a daily wager in the State of Uttarakhand under the Minimum Wages Act." Besides the Appellants were granted compensation amounting to Rs. 6, 00,000.

What is a minimum wage?

Minimum wages have been defined as "the minimum amount of remuneration that an employer is required to pay wage earners for the work performed during a given period, which cannot be reduced by collective agreement or an individual contract".[10]

According to sec 2(h) of THE MINIMUM WAGES ACT, 1948 (ACT NO. XI OF 1948) "Wages" refers to all the money a person would receive for their work if the terms of their employment contract were fully met. This includes any additional payment like house rent allowance.[11]

The minimum wage determined by the government for specific jobs may include a basic wage along with additional allowances that adjust based on changes in the cost of living, as directed by the government. Alternatively, it may consist of a basic wage with or without adjustments for the cost of living, along with the value of any discounts on essential items if permitted. Additionally, an all-inclusive rate may be established to cover the basic wage, cost of living adjustments, and any discounts on essential items. The government specifies how often and in what manner these adjustments and discounts are calculated[12].

The government can set[13]:
  • A minimum hourly wage for regular work (called "minimum time rate").
  • A minimum payment for each piece of work completed (known as "minimum piece rate").
  • A guaranteed minimum payment for piecework employees, ensuring they earn at least a minimum wage for the time spent working (referred to as "guaranteed time rate").
  • An overtime rate for work done beyond normal hours, which should be at least as much as the minimum wage or any higher rate set by the government.
Additionally, for certain jobs, the government can decide:

  • How many hours make up a regular workday and if employees get a day off every week, with pay.
  • That employees should be paid extra for working on their day off, at a rate equal to or higher than the overtime rate.
  • When an employee does different types of work, each with its own minimum wage, the employer must pay them according to the minimum wage for each type of work they do.

In 1957, the Indian Labour Conference introduced the concept of "need-based minimum wages" and provided guidelines for calculating these wages. They proposed considering a standard working-class family as consisting of three consumption units, excluding the earnings of women, children, and adolescents. Minimum food requirements were suggested to be based on a daily intake of 2,700 calories per adult, while clothing needs were estimated at 18 yards per person annually. Housing expenses were to be determined by the lowest government-provided rent in subsidized housing schemes for low-income groups, and 20% of the total minimum wage was allocated for fuel, lighting, and other miscellaneous expenditures.

In India, the national-level minimum daily wage is roughly INR 178, which amounts to approximately INR 5,340 per month. However, there are notable regional differences in minimum wage rates across the country. These variations are evident under the Minimum Wages Act of 1948, where minimum wages can range from INR 160 per day in Bihar to INR 423 per day in Delhi.[15]

How is the minimum wage calculated for homemakers?

During their lifetime, no wage is awarded to housewives for their homemaking job in India. However, following their death, in certain instances, the Motor Accident Claims Tribunal (MACT) may utilize specific formulas to assess the value of a housewife, as seen in cases such as Managing Director, State Express Transport Corporation (Tamilnadu Dn. I) Ltd. v. Ravi (2010) and Arun Kumar Agrawal v. National Insurance Co. These formulas often involve subtracting the wife's income from the husband's and adding the value of the husband's household services, recognizing the housewife's contribution to the family's welfare.

Alternatively, the MACT may determine income based on the age of the deceased housewife, as illustrated in cases like Rajendra Singh v. National Insurance Company Limited. For instance, income for housewives aged between 34 to 59 years may be assessed at Rs. 36,000 per annum, while for elderly ladies aged between 62 to 72 years, it may be assessed at Rs. 20,000 per annum.

In certain cases, a notional income for the housewife is established by the MACT, such as Rs. 2500 per month, with deductions for personal expenses, as observed in cases like Imam Khan v. Akram and Bhagwan Sahay v. Ganguram. Notably, in Lal Chand v. Karam Singh, a notional income of Rs. 3,000 per month was considered, with 1/3rd deducted.

Claimants are urged to furnish evidence and documentation substantiating the deceased housewife's income, as without proper evidence, the MACT may resort to minimum wages or nominal amounts for assessment.

Regarding compensation calculation, the MACT applies a multiplier based on the deceased's age to determine future loss of income, while also factoring in other elements such as loss of love and affection, medical and funeral expenses, and future prospects.

It's essential to recognize that MACT decisions are subject to review and appeal. In certain instances, the High Court may augment the compensation amount based on the presented evidence and arguments.

In summary, the determination of income for housewives in MACT claims hinges on diverse factors, including the deceased's age, provided evidence, and formulas applied by the tribunal. Claimants must furnish adequate documentation to support their claims and ensure an equitable evaluation of compensation.

The Minimum Wages Act mandates that when an employee performs various types of work, each with its own minimum wage, the employer must compensate them accordingly. Additionally, the Act encompasses concepts such as skilled and unskilled work, overtime, and paid leave. Girls at home are tirelessly engaged in tasks round the clock, without specific breaks or holidays, and there's no provision for designated rest time or sick leave.

The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored this reality, as patients wearing oxygen masks continue to fulfill household duties. Given this societal context, the determination of minimum time rates and minimum piece rates etc. becomes increasingly intricate. In the given scenario, establishing a minimum wage for housewives presents a considerable challenge within legal parameters.

Controversy Surrounding Minimum Wages for Housewives

The discussion surrounding the notion of minimum wages for housewives is multifaceted, with varying perspectives emerging. While there's a growing consensus on acknowledging housework as legitimate labor and assigning it economic value in national accounts, the proposal of offering salaries for housework has stirred controversy. Critics within feminist circles argue that such an approach risks perpetuating traditional gender roles by framing men solely as providers.

Instead, they advocate for a broader feminist agenda aimed at alleviating the disproportionate burden of household duties on women and promoting their autonomy by facilitating their meaningful participation in the labor market.

Opponents of the wages for housework movement label it as "reactionary," criticizing its theoretical foundation. They challenge the premise that children should be viewed primarily as "future capitalist workers," thereby necessitating compensation for women's role in their "production." This perspective argues against the commodification of household labor, suggesting that it oversimplifies complex social issues and is an inadequate means of addressing them.

Advocates of wages for housework contend that it represents a revolutionary concept. They assert that its implementation, while setting aside concerns about commodification, can lead to compensating women for the subsidies they offer to the state, patriarchy, and capitalism.

The concept of wages for housework poses significant operationalization challenges that remain largely unanswered. Firstly, there's a debate whether this provision should exclusively encompass housewives or be gender-neutral, extending to any spouse who opts to be a homemaker. Secondly, it raises questions about inclusion, as it should cover all women, including those who are employed but continue to bear household responsibilities. Thirdly, there's ambiguity regarding the entity responsible for paying the wages: should it be the husband or the state? Most notably, the measurement and valuation of housework remain the most daunting task.

  1. Feminist Archive North. National Women's Liberation Conference 1-4.
  2. Article 36 of the Cambodian constitution 'affirms that the work by casaling he in the home shall have the same value as what they receive if they work outside the home'.
  3. Article 88 of the Venezuelan Constitution which is interpreted as 'the state recognizes housework as an economic activity and produces social welfare and wealth of casalinghe, with add to that they are entitled to social security.'
  4. Singh, S. (2021, July 16). Housewife Worth: Does It Count. Legal Bites. URL: [2]
  5. James, S. (2020, March 8). "I founded the wages for housework campaign in 1972 - and women are still working for free, Independent." URL: [5]
  6. Tulsyan, A. (2020, January). Salary for homemakers: An idea laden with controversies. MANORAMA YEARBOOK. URL: [6]
  7. Biswas, S. (2021, January 24). How India calculates the value of women's housework. BBC. URL: [7]
  8. See Footnote 7.
  9. Samervel, R. (2020, December 13). Maharashtra: Tribunal cites 'loss of income' in housewife's death, orders relief. Times of India. URL: [9]
  10. ILO: General Survey concerning the Minimum Wage Fixing Convention, 1970 (No. 131), and the Minimum Wage Fixing Recommendation, 1970 (No. 135), Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations, 2014. URL: [10]
  11. However, it does not include:
    • The value of things like housing, utilities, or medical care provided by the employer.
    • Any contributions made by the employer to pension or provident funds.
    • Travel allowances or concessions.
    • Special expenses covered by the employer.
    • Gratuity paid upon discharge.
  12. THE MINIMUM WAGES ACT, 1948. (ACT NO. XI OF 1948) URL: [12]
  13. supra
  14. supra
  15. Shira, D. (2023, October 26). A Guide to Minimum Wage in India in 2023. India Briefing. URL: [15]

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