With the rapid spread of novel coronavirus infection in the country, its economic impact is hitting the poorer sections of the society hard. Women and men who are working as domestic help, especially in the big cities, are afraid that the epidemic might cost them their jobs or at least two months’ salary.
"I work in Bandra's Pali Hill area. I wash household utensils and wipe floors. I work at four houses. But because of the coronavirus, the house owners have asked me not to come until this disease is gone. So I have no work now," said Shubhangi Jadhav, 37-year-old domestic help from Khar, Mumbai.
There are about three lakh workers in Mumbai working as domestic help. Majority of them have been told by the house owners not to work—as part of the social distancing measures. As it difficult to predict for how long the impact of this pandemic is going to last, these domestic helps, mainly women, fear loss of livelihood.
"Every household help earns maximum Rs 2,000-3000 from one house. So, their total income is not more than RS 7,000-8,000. If they lose one or two months’ salary, it will have a severe impact on them," said Bharati Sharma, a senior activist, working with a number of women's organisations.
The domestic helps are, for the most part, not organised, which is why there is no pressure group which can force the state government to listen.
Babali Ravat of Domestic Helps’ Organisation hopes that state government will intervene and appeal to the people to not deduct salaries for these forced leaves. "There should be work every second day or leaves till March 31. But at the same time, state government should ask people not to cut salaries of these women. Losing one month’s salary is big setback for them," said Ravat.
Various other suggestions have also been made. Many of the women working as domestic help come from suburban areas like Virar, Vasai, Nalasopara, Badlapur or Vitava and Digha. They are vulnerable to exposure during their commute. “The government could at least provide sanitisers and masks to all of them. They should get hand gloves if they require. This will reduce the possibility of spread of the virus," said Jyoti Mhapsekar of Stri Mukti Sanghatana.
Some house owners who has asked their domestic helps not to come to work have also assured complete financial remuneration. Akshata Sakpal works in Bhandup and says that two house owners have promised her payment of the complete salary. But at the same time, two other employers have not said anything about the salary. They have asked her not to come to work. "All people are not alike. Some take care of us and some do not. That's why there should be some kind of support from the government for people like us," said Akshata.