Domestic workers to protest loss of jobs, wages during lockdown

violation of workers' rights

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A file image of domestic workers protesting in Bengaluru.

In the first two weeks of May, a survey of over 2500 domestic workers in Bengaluru was conducted by us at Domestic Workers Rights Union (DWRU), Bruhat Bangalore Gruhakarmika Sangha (BBGS), and Manegelasa Kaarmikara Union. Some of the most startling findings from the survey are below:

  • 2084 (about 87%) of the workers were told not to come for work since the lockdown in March, and were not sure if and when they would be called to work again. 
  • 341 workers in the areas surveyed by BBGS, and 150 workers in the areas surveyed by Manegelasa Kaarmikara Union, lost their jobs entirely during the lockdown.  
  • 91% of workers lost their salaries for the month of April.
  • 50% of all workers above the age of 50 lost their jobs during lockdown.

Our survey also showcases the tyranny of Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs). The period of lockdown relaxation has seen RWAs issuing directives that are demeaning to domestic workers and pose insurmountable barriers to their ability to work. For example, several RWAs issued emails advising residents to ask domestic workers to minimise or avoid lift usage and take the stairs instead. They also discouraged domestic workers from waiting in the common areas in between shifts. RWAs also invaded domestic workers’ privacy by mandating the disclosure of personal information without any protocols in place to keep this information secure. 

All of our findings can be found in our report titled “The COVID-19 Pandemic and the Invisible Workers of the Household Economy”. The report will be published tomorrow, June 16, to mark International Domestic Workers’ Day. 

Domestic workers to protest ahead of International Domestic Workers Day

In light of these astonishing and deeply disturbing findings, we are organising a peaceful protest on June 15, to demand the survival of millions of domestic workers in Bengaluru, Karnataka, and all over the country. 

Our demands are directed at the government, RWAs and the employers of domestic workers.

For the Government

  • All domestic workers, irrespective of categories, should be included in the social security net. As immediate income and livelihood support, a cash transfer of Rs 3,000 per month for the months of April and May, and till the end of this year, should be given.
  • A directive should be published targeting all RWAs and employers to furnish all information about live-in domestic workers, and their health and working conditions.
  • Domestic workers must be accorded the right to collective bargaining, and employers must engage with the grievances highlighted in this period of the pandemic. 
  • The Government of Karnataka must issue directions to RWAs to comply with the recommendations in the following section to ensure safety and stable livelihoods for domestic workers.

For RWAs

  • As per the government advisories on employee retention, domestic workers must be given their job back unconditionally. They must not be kept in the dark about their jobs or postponement, and adequate wage compensation should be given for the next three months.
  • Domestic workers must not be discriminated against or looked at as “higher risk” individuals. They must not be advised to “not take the lift”; no such discriminatory practices should be implemented.
  • They cannot be removed from premises for waiting in the common area. This is their natural waiting space. Instead, apartments should provide proper training on social distancing to domestic workers.
  • Apartments should provide a regular supply of fresh masks, gloves and hand sanitisers to every domestic worker.
  • Measures must be taken to limit the data collected from domestic help and to ensure the protection of such data.
  • Apartment owners must pay their domestic help full wages for the period of the lockdowns and any ongoing and future period where domestic workers are prohibited from coming to their place of employment.
[This article is based on a press release from Domestic Workers Rights Union (DWRU), Bruhat Bangalore Gruhakarmika Sangha (BBGS), and Manegelasa Kaarmikara Union, and has been published with minimal edits]
About Geeta Menon 1 Article
Geeta Menon is a women’s rights activist. For over three decades, she has been involved with women and women workers, especially in the informal economy, in the building of women’s own voice and leadership. As a representative of Stree Jagruti Samiti and the Domestic Workers Rights Union, she has worked on issues like domestic violence, sexual harassment, issues of domestic workers especially that of forced labour.