CHENNAI: While most of the city shut down on Tuesday, people working for the unorganised sector including construction labourers, watchmen, cab and auto drivers were majorly affected. A lot of daily wage labourers have been asked to get back to work only after the scare settles. “Our owner suddenly called us and asked us not to come for work for at least two weeks.
We depend on our daily wages even for our food,” said Dharmendra, one of the workers at Velachery. Security personnel too are facing the same problem. “Since the theatres have been asked to shut their doors, we have been asked to stay at home. The owner informed us that we will not be paid till the theatre opens again. Hundreds of people like me lost their job in the city in just one day,” said P Saravanan, who used to work as a security personnel at one of the companies on OMR.
As bars, malls, schools and colleges also shut down and most people are working from home, cab and auto drivers say their income has reduced by more than half. “I am hardly earning `400 per day currently, as against at least `1,000 earlier. It looks like we can only earn money if we wait outside hospitals,” rued P Arul, an auto driver. “People who have come out of poverty, but might be pushed back into it due to situations like these,” opined social scientist, J Jeyaranjan. “To prevent a repeat, the government can mobilise money from the National Disaster fund and disburse it among the affected.”
No safety gear?
While ‘safety’ has become the buzzword of late, one key group seems to have missed out: the 20,000-odd sanitary workers who keep Chennai clean. They are still going about their business without any safety gear. The workers complain that they are segregating waste with their bare hands and interacting with ‘tens and thousands of sick people without masks’. “Around 10 days back, a few corporation officials gave us some masks and clicked our photos. However, no face masks were supplied after that. Even those that were supplied, could be used only for a day since they were of very bad quality,” said Shanthi, a conservancy worker at Mogappair.
The workers say they also must be granted leave till the COVID-19 scare subsides, like most others in the city, or proper measures must be taken by the government. “We have submitted a letter to the corporation commissioner, asking to stall the segregation process at least,” said P Srinivasulu of the Madras Corporation Red Flag Union. When contacted, a senior corporation official said, “We have been supplying safety gear for the conservancy workers to all the zonal offices in the city. We will send a circular tomorrow to all the offices saying masks and gloves must be given to all of them.”