Lockdown shuts doors for domestic workers


Domestic workers are facing financial constraints as most of the families have stopped calling them for work.

Kabita, a household worker traveled for approximately 54.8 kilometers from Canning to Kolkata to work daily. She would travel by train during the pandemic, land in Kolkata at 7:00 am, and take a train back at 9 pm at the end of the day. 

Disha Samajdar, whose house Kabita worked at said, “Due to the lockdown, she is not able to travel. She used to come to our home at 8 in the morning, and then again at 3 pm. In between, she would go to work at other homes.

Kabita is now living in her village and hopes to find a full-time household work so that she doesn’t need to travel.

A study conducted by the Indian Institute of Human Settlements (IIHS) says that the average income for domestic workers in February 2020, was around Rs.8000.  It dropped by 35 percent in March, and by 93 percent during the month of April. 

Fifty-two percent of households have reported no income for the month of April. The cumulative income for all the participants in the study, reduced from Rs 40 lakhs to Rs 2.7 lakhs. Pre COVID-19, women’s income through working in domestic households was a stable source of income which helped them sustain their livelihood. It constituted  50 percent of the total income in the household in most cases.

Rohit Roy’s maid was visiting her village and by the time she came back, the cases in Mumbai were soaring. Skeptic about where she lived, and amid what conditions, Rohit asked her household maid to stop coming. His society too imposed restrictions for outside visitors “We were asked to get an RT-PCR test for our maids every 15 days, which was required to be negative,” said Rohit.

The study also said that the domestic workers banked on their personal savings during the lockdown to survive, followed by dues and borrowings and from personal networks.

Usha, another domestic worker, used to cook in houses. Her monthly wages have dwindled from Rs 15,000 per month to Rs 4,000 now. She said, “Most families have been apprehensive about letting us inside their homes because of COVID-19. These families also have children and they fear letting someone in who travels daily might put them in the danger of testing positive.” Usha worked in four houses before the lockdown, and it gradually came down to one during the lockdown which crushed all her hopes. Usha stays on rent and cooking used to be the only source of income. She lives with her children and husband who worked in a local restaurant. He is receiving half the wages from what he used to get since March 2020. Paying rent has been difficult for both of them. 

Dr. Rajasekhar, head of the Centre for Decentralization and Development, Institute of Social and Economic Change (ISEC), specializes in the social security of the unorganized sector believes in some cases, the families have been providing financial aid to these workers when they are not working. However, a majority of these workers are not being paid by their employers. 

He added, “When it comes to the unorganized sector, none of them have been spared.” He said, most of these domestic workers are females while their husbands are also employed in the unorganized sector as well.

A report by the International Labour Organisation shows that 4.75 million people are domestic workers in India, out of which three million are women. In another report by the Institute of Social Studies Trust, which studies the impact of COVID-19 on women domestic workers in Delhi state, stated that 83 percent of women experienced a financial crisis.

However, Dr. Rajasekhar believes that these domestic workers comprise a small proportion of the unorganized sector and are better off than others. More than often not, families do rely on these workers.