CHENNAI: Amla, a housemaid is struggling to eke out her living during the pandemic. “I used to make around Rs 15,000 by working in five to six homes. Now I get less than Rs 3,000 as house owners, fearing Covid, have asked me not to come. I have two children and have yet to pay their fees,” rues the maid.
Amla is not alone. The family of Mallika has been struggling after she got Covid-19. “I used to work for eight families and all of them have asked me not to come. Even now they fear that the virus will be transmitted. Now, I have got a job in three houses and manage to earn Rs 3,000, which is barely enough,” she says.
Eighty percent of domestic workers in the city have been impacted and many of them have lost their lives, says Josephine Valarmathi from National Domestic Workers Movement (NDWM) in Chennai. Many domestic workers, who are an invisible but crucial workforce, are living in penury. She says that the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention had confirmed domestic workers’ labour rights 10 years ago, but India has yet to ratify the convention.
While NDWM has written a letter to the Prime Minister to ratify the convention and enact comprehensive legislation for domestic workers, Valarmathi wants the State government to come up with a legislation to protect the rights of domestic workers and protect them from discrimination. “We have submitted a memorandum to Minister for Labour Welfare and Skill Development CV Ganesan recently to enact a law to protect the rights of domestic workers,” says Valarmathi.
She wants the government to provide aid to domestic workers in the State and revise the minimum wage from Rs 80 to Rs 100. “Many domestic workers in their families have been ill and in many places they have had to pay for care which has also been beyond their means. Many have lost relatives and family members. There has been no compensation. Some have received some ration but many have not and there are so many other needs where cash is required. Children have also lost out on education as not all have cell phones,” she says.
However, the major issue is lack of exact data on the numbers of domestic workers in the state or country. It is estimated that there are over 30 million and the numbers are swelling as other work opportunities for poor informal workers diminish.
The majority of domestic workers are women and also single mothers. So, this is the only work that provides them with a livelihood. The State government should register all domestic workers with the help of the Labour Department and provide cash compensation of Rs 7,500 for the number of days of work lost.
“We have also urged the State to provide pension to domestic workers from the welfare board from the age of 50 years rather than the prescribed 60 years. Also, prioritise Covid vaccination for domestic workers so that they may continue to work without fear,” she said, adding that NDWM is currently hosting a campaign which will go on till June 30 where domestic workers are being informed of their rights, Covid-19 pandemic and vaccination