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The coronavirus pandemic has wrecked livelihoods of people, especially those working in the unorganised sector, including domestic maids. They have suffered from non-payment of wages and abrupt termination of employment, More than four million people in the country are employed as domestic helpers, often for very little money, in middle-class and affluent Indian homes. However, unofficial estimates put that number at a whopping 50 million.
The Hindu reported the findings of a research conducted by the faculty at The Central University of Tamil Nadu. Close to 260 domestic workers from different cities like Kochi, Mumbai and Delhi were interviewed for the study. "Debts increased for 10 per cent of the families, and more than 11 per cent of families were forced to sell their personal assets for survival. About 57 per cent of domestic workers reported stigma and discrimination at the workplace, and 40% worked without any safety measures," the report added.
Eighty percent of domestic workers in Chennai have been impacted and many of them have lost their lives, said Josephine Valarmathi from National Domestic Workers Movement (NDWM) in Chennai. She pointed out that though the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention had confirmed domestic workers' labour rights 10 years ago, but India has yet to ratify the convention.
Many domestic workers have lost their jobs as more and more people are apprehensive of appointing them amidst the pandemic. V Ishwari, a domestic worker, said "Once Covid-19 cases started rising again, I lost my job at many households. People do not pay me when a lockdown takes place as I am not able to show up for work." "I have three children and a family to feed but there is no money to do so," she added.
People also prefer not to hire domestic help as they are afraid of contracting the virus. Farheen Nahar, a resident of Kochi, said, "I have asked my maid and cook to stop coming since the pandemic aggravated because I am unsure whether they use public transport. They have the potential of being carriers of the virus." According to the study, many factors fuel the crisis among domestic helpers. Some of them being aggravated exploitative existing work conditions, transportation restrictions, emergency medical expenses and food insecurities.
According to a report by International Labor Organization, 76 per cent of domestic workers are at risk of losing their jobs in India. The lack of social and financial security leaves domestic helpers vulnerable to the crisis caused by the pandemic. N Shivanna, Secretary of All India Trade Union (AITUC), said, "We demand to give domestic workers or any unorganized workers for that matter the benefit of free ration." He further added, "A sum of ₹ 7,500/- should be given to them for security. That way, at least they can survive."
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