Orphaned by the economy, domestic workers are struggling to make ends meet during the lockdown. Most of the household help are women and they are one section of the population that is adversely impacted by the lockdown. Domestic workers, whose worksites are private homes like home care aids, house cleaners, cooks, nannies/babysitters are particularly in peculiar positions during the coronavirus pandemic. They are losing their jobs in staggering numbers and many lack the protective equipment to keep themselves safe. They do not have reserves to fall back on. Therefore, they will definitely be one of the worst to be affected. The longer it takes them to resume work, the harder it will be the impact. In order to understand the current inaction for the welfare of domestic workers, one needs to relook at the deep-rooted injustices these workers have been facing for decades.

According to a survey, close to 90% of the employers hire part-time domestic workers and only 10% opt to live in/full-time domestic workers. The pressure of urbanization, space constraints, trust deficit, and desire for one’s freedom, go against live-in domestic workers in metropolitan cities. Demand for domestic workers is rising steadily but domestic work is not seen as legitimate market activity. This sector is still named as an unorganized sector. Although the number of workers is huge and they also contribute broadly to the GDP and economic prosperity of the country. The relationship between the employer and employee has not been defined because of the nature by which it emerged, the nature of the feudal relationship. In our country, the domestic workers are looked upon as someone who should be able to do all the work with the lowest possible wage/salary and minimum facilities. Employees often fail to acknowledge the importance of domestic workers in their lives. Feudalistic mindset still runs deep in most of the employers but an increasing number of employers have started to treat their domestic helpers more humanely now. Although we have moved very far into modernization yet the mentality is still feudal.

Unfortunately, it comes down to the fact that people are cutting down on what they deem as luxuries or things that they don’t absolutely need in their lives hence they are cutting down by retraining domestic help out by large numbers. People who have suffered these losses have to find an alternative means of work quite quickly. Domestic workers themselves are under immense pressure financially. When you consider the expenses and the number of dependents that many domestic workers have i.e. an average of three dependents in addition to themselves and having to cater for that many people as in many cases, is a primary breadwinner. In addition, there seems to be very little future security. They do not have a pension fund, don’t have the capacity to actually save.

To make matters worse, many are excluded from basic workplace protections under labor law. Certain groups of domestic workers are excluded from basic labor protections including those guaranteed under the occupational safety and health act and the family medical leave act, which are crucial during a pandemic. All this is especially troubling because this crisis will worsen existing inequalities. Over 90% of domestic workers are women. More than 2/3rd of the domestic workers have lost their jobs as of the first week of April. Less than half were able to pay their rent. 3 out of 4 are the primary earners for their families, but 84% don’t know if they will be able to afford food for the next two weeks. Domestic workers who are still working risk sacrificing their help for economic security. A lot of home care aides who care for sick, disabled, and elderly people lack protective equipment and so do house cleaners, and their work helps families prevent the spread of COVID-19. More often domestic workers reach the end of their working life with nothing to look forward to which is why there are a lot of older domestic workers struggling to work and make a living for themselves. There are no paid leaves, health care, or job security. Many house cleaners and nannies are forced to navigate this crisis alone — without a safety net.

Domestic workers have long struggled with low wages and the lack of benefits like health care and paid leave. Covid-19 pandemic has made things that were already a problem into a crisis. Policymakers need to act to ensure that the domestic workers who clean, care for children, and provide home care services across the country don’t have to choose between their physical health and their economic survival. In 2011, the Domestic Work Convention no. 189 was adopted with the help of the Indian government but there still seems to be a lack of national policy and regulations for domestic workers. The sector of domestic work remains largely unregulated with no provision of minimum wages or social security. Civil society on the other hand also has to join the force. People who can afford to pay their household helpers can also contribute by letting them work fewer days in their weekly schedule or fewer hours to make up for the money they need.

Interestingly the demand for regulations is now slowly emerging from the employers’ side but they want to bring in regulations that will benefit them rather than the workers. The civility in the relationship is of such nature that the employer is prone to abuse and exploit the employee in most cases and unless the employee has recourse to some kind of legislative provision or notion of rights of their own or agency to be able to fight for them, there will be very little change and therefore it is very important to regulate this sector. The sector is slowly transforming and more formalization is taking place in the domestic work sector. Direct demand for an act that can be implemented through a court of law is necessary which can give a structure to get things done like providing social security, regulating placement agencies, redressal of grievances, etc. should be provided in a comprehensive law. However, regulations cannot be taken as a primary solution for all kinds of problems encountered by labor because existing regulations have clearly shown that’s not working. We should look for alternatives and look beyond regulations.


Contributed By- Alvina Begum Zeba, Content writer @ Mitti Ke Rang

At Mitti Ke Rang, we started with a COVID-19 community support fundraising, as an emergency response to provide a safety net to families. This will help them survive in the lockdown period. We aim to directly support these families by providing a minimum wage, through transferring the same into their accounts or partner with local NGO, Organisation, Fellow or a Volunteer, and support them with groceries.

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A social venture dedicated to empowering widows and single women to overcome poverty and dependency.