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“No One Withheld My Pay”: Domestic Workers Who Lucked Out During Corona

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When the first lockdown was announced in March 2020, Nila, working as a domestic worker in four homes in Pune, realised that she may never be called back to work.

However, she shared, “Surprisingly and to my delight, nobody withheld my salary for the months that I did not work, and paid me in full. So, I did not face any major financial problems during that difficult time.”

Representational image. Photo credit: Asia News.

As news of the lockdown was broadcasted in every home and people prepared themselves for a long haul at home, domestic workers all across Maharashtra were asked to temporarily discontinue their work.

This left them in a precarious state with no certainty around when and if they will be called back to work with no assured paycheck at the end of the month.

What Happened After The Lockdown Was Lifted?

After the lockdown was lifted, and domestic workers were allowed to step out and work again, there were many households who were hesitant to call them back as they feared transmission of the virus.

A lot of domestic workers were also completely out of work, making them more financially vulnerable with an uncertain future looming ahead.

Domestic workers, such as daily wage earners and labourers, are a part of the huge unorganised sector in India. This sector being completely unregulated, leaves ample room for exploitation.

We have all seen and read dreadful stories about how the migrant workers in the unorganised sector lost their livelihoods during the pandemic and had to travel back to their villages.

However, there have been stories of hope as well in the case of domestic workers as not all them were left stranded.

As Jani, who has been working as a domestic worker for quite some time now, shared:

“When the lockdown was announced, I was very worried. I thought how will I manage without any work and money during this time? I am the only one who earns in the family, my husband doesn’t work at all, and my son is preparing for his 12th standard exam. This added to my anxiety. However, to my surprise, the households I work in gave me my monthly wages even during the lockdown.”

She added:

“Some used G-pay to transfer my wages, while as the lockdown eased, some asked me to come to my door and handed me money in-person. So, I did not face any problems during the lockdown. Even after the lockdown was completely lifted, and domestic workers were allowed to go back to work, all the households I worked in previously, welcomed me back.”

“My Employers Paid Me My Pending Wages”

Varsha, who is a young mother of two shared that, “I felt worried in the beginning, as I and my husband both were not going to get our monthly wages for the next few months. I was a little worried about work, but I also enjoyed the first few days at home, as it was like a vacation after a long time. However, as the days passed, I really wanted to step out and resume working.”

She added, “We had also used up whatever savings we had at home to buy basic groceries like rice and daal. After things became a bit normal and I started working again, everyone who I worked for, paid me my pending wages in full. I did not experience any discomfort on that front.”

Although Varsha did not face any major issues at work as a result of the pandemic and subsequent lockdown, she did find online schooling to be a big hassle for her children.

For instance, she spoke about how her daughters wasted one year of their academic life as she did not have access to a good smartphone and the internet.

While it is true that domestic workers can be easily susceptible to mistreatment and exploitation, as they are not regulated by any labour laws, it is heartening to hear of such exceptional cases, where they are not alienated by the people they work for. A majority of the domestic workers who work in households—cook, clean the dishes, sweep and mop etc.—are women, and often the sole earners in their families.

Given the large number of domestic workers in the country, it is vital to bring this work under the ambit of professional work with proper employment contracts, right to paid leave, and health support. This would ensure formal employment, especially in case of women, and make them a part of the formal workforce in the country.

The author is a Kaksha Correspondent as a part of writers’ training program under Kaksha Crisis.

Featured image is for representational purposes only. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.
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