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No Home To Work From

Updated: May 18, 2020

Domestic workers play a very significant role in the lives of urban society in many cities across the world. While for most of us, the protocol brought about by the coronavirus means working online and having access to (more than just) basic amenities, this is not the same in the case of our domestic help.

The absence of job security, paid leave, unemployment insurance in their field of work is only exacerbated by the current circumstances brought about by the onset of the global pandemic. Moreover, unlike workers laid off from companies, domestic workers are extremely unlikely to receive unemployment benefits during these times.

Countries like India, where the urban middle class is heavily reliant on domestic help, have started barring the entry of maids and other domestic help into societies. While some people continue to pay these domestic workers, many of them only receive their payments in cash. This lack of access to bank accounts and credit serves as another barrier for these workers as their employers are unable to contact them and pay them their salaries.

Another issue arises from the fact that many domestic workers in India come from remote villages in the southern states of India and have immigrated to metropolitan cities such as Mumbai and Bangalore in search of employment. Moreover, workers are being evicted from their homes as they have more exposure to the virus. Furthermore, landlords are fearful that they will have to spend money on the sanitation of the living spaces occupied by these workers. This eviction, along with the ban of public transport, has left workers with nowhere to go, forcing them to live in inhabitable conditions. States such as Delhi and Kerala have also faced public protests and riots as these workers yearn to return to their homes. This problem, in turn, has led to the worsening of the pandemic.

The government of India, in its Rs. 1.70 lakh crore relief package had provided a total of Rs. 30,000 crore as a form of financial assistance to poor people. Many women have even registered under the Jan Dhan account, receiving a sum of Rs. 500. The only problem is that these workers, especially the female domestic workers, are the sole bread earners for a family of more than five to ten people, and their inability to transfer money back home is rendering their families without basic amenities. The government has also worked on providing rations and food for many lower-income individuals but, insufficient storage has led to a lot of these rations getting spoiled and causing people to fall ill, especially in hot regions such as Jaipur. Apart from this, a lot of the money from the government is going to construction workers, while other laborers and domestic workers are not receiving the attention they require. Moreover, the red tape procedures in place for the application of these benefits to the poor are another obstacle for these workers and their families.

While some families have allowed their domestic help to stay in their houses, this has caused a separate problem. There is massive discrimination of house help in India, often based on caste. Workers in many homes are not provided with adequate food and water and living space, and the current situation has only increased their workload, with many employers not providing them with suitable protective equipment either. The labor laws in countries like India are negligent of this open discrimination and have not curbed the mistreatment of these workers, which is only escalating at present. Unfortunately, a lot of these workers face domestic abuse from their partners in their own homes as well. A large number of working-class women have partners who are alcoholics. The lack of alcohol during these times has increased the aggressiveness and frequency of the abuse in their households.

Other countries in the Middle East, for example, have not been able to protect domestic workers either. Many domestic workers are trapped in abusive situations due to the anxiety and panic caused by the coronavirus and are unable to return home. The Kafala system in the Middle East, which is a sponsorship system for migrant domestic workers, restricts these workers from leaving the country as their visas are tied to their employers, and they need to seek their employer’s permission to move or even change employers. Where is the government intervention when it comes to the lives of these workers? These laws need to be amended to help workers escape the inhumane conditions that they face in their workplaces. In Hong-Kong, many domestic workers were tested positive for the coronavirus, which they contracted from their employers who were traveling abroad. These workers were then unable to work and did not receive their salaries, which affected their families back home drastically.

Although domestic workers are crucial in the lives of many people in our society, they are currently the most neglected part of the workforce. The inhumane conditions, lack of protection from the virus, and the stressful work environment that these individuals are battling have to be dealt with immediately. Our workers have been taking care of us for a long time, it is time for us, and our governments, to now take care of our domestic help.

Author : Shruti Srikumar

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