Meena, a domestic worker who has been working in four different houses in a RWA (Resident Welfare Association) locality in South Delhi for the past 12 years is not allowed to report to her workplaces and not paid with full salary since March 2020. Another couple Rahim and Fatima who have been working for a society in Gurgaon as maid and cook respectively are completely prohibited to enter the household they served; neither being paid salaries nor are they being supported by their employers with essential items like food and medicine.
Such stories coupled with devastatingly sad stories of numerous migrant domestic workers from across the country are now common in the media and real life situations. We have many opportunities to encounter the sad plight and hardships of domestic workers during our small efforts to provide services to the needy, homeless and migrant workers since the COVID-19 lockdown that started on March 25th 2020.
According to the Ministry of Labour & Employment (MoLE, GOI) draft National Policy on Domestic Workers, there are over 20 million domestic workers in India, 90% of whom are women. Large numbers among these domestic workers are migrants from states like Jharkhand, Bihar, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Odisha etc. who may be found working all over the country particularly in the metropolitan cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangaluru, with or without their migrant families.
The overwhelming majority are from economically backward sections of the society, illiterate or marginally educated, unskilled or poorly skilled. Even under normal situations, we come across stories of ill-provided domestic workers being exploited and harassed. There are various reports about them in India being trafficked, abused, overworked and/or underpaid by the employers. The problems and hardships of domestic workers with regard to their working and living conditions are at times highlighted by their associations and trade unions, but they are few and far between.
During these extraordinary times of Covid-19 disaster and continuous lockdown owing to the global pandemic, this particular category of unorganized workers are either are not being paid their regular wages or are struggling to survive and earn their daily food.
In order to provide skills, employability and better working conditions for India’s domestic or household workers, three years back, the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE) with the support from the International Labour Organization (ILO), MoLE and some of the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) connected to the domestic workers led by Prayas JAC Society, created a national level agency, called Domestic Workers Sector Skill Council (DWSSC). This body which is responsible for training and designating the training providers and assessing bodies also creates national level occupational standards, curriculum and content for multiple forms of job-roles within the households, such as, general housekeeper, housekeeper-cum-cook, child caretaker (non – clinical), elderly caretaker(non-clinical), caregiver mother & new born(non-clinical) etc.
DWSSC being the umbrella organization between the government and non-government stakeholders operating for this particular sector of workers, working in tandem with NGOs, RWAs, training partners and industry partners etc., is helping the workers during these extremely tough times. Due to substantial loss of wages and employment, the major issue is the reverse migration of these workers from their far off places of work to their home towns and villages in huge numbers with no public transport or money to survive and travel. We at DWSSC acutely realize the need for safety since apart from being the most vulnerable, they are also one of those segments of workers who are most susceptible to COVID-19 infection.
DWSSC feels that Government and other funding agencies should allow and support the grassroots level NGOs and domestic workers trade unions to serve them directly and fulfil their basic needs as well as provide them with detailed information about the pandemic and work in the households to keep themselves and their families safe from the infection. In addition, the agencies who place domestic workers in households should conduct survey of those staying with employers and find out whether they are being treated well since the family is confined indoors 24×7, there being strong chances of increased household chores and probable harassment.
Due to this lockdown, the economy is hard hit with almost all types of industries emptying their pockets in an effort to run their business and partly support the government in fighting the corona virus. DWSSC which comes under MSDE has come up with some ways to help the 4 lakh domestic workers whom we have trained through the partners till date. We should not forget that the domestic workers are not only lifeline for many families but they also contribute hugely to the economy. While the Government should be well prepared in all sectors for the after-effects of the lockdown, they have to keep an eye on domestic workers as well when the return to the households, their workplaces.
DWSSC conducted a survey ( To read complete survey, Click Here ) with random sample group of 200 PMKVY (Prime Minister Kaushal Vikas Yojana) trained and employed workers in 08 States viz. Delhi, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Assam, West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu, to understand the situations being faced by these much better placed domestic workers during this lockdown period. The survey, however, indicated various areas where they are facing serious problems. This data is representative of the larger group which may differ but the findings appear to be by and large appropriate and useful:
- 38% of these domestic workers mentioned that they are facing problem of food as he stocks in the nearby outlets are limited. Though not all but some also mentioned that they are facing problem in getting ration provided by the government.
- 30% of them told that they don’t have enough money and this is the biggest challenge as they don’t know how long they will be able to manage with that. The majority of them are those whose employers are not paying them for the lockdown period.
- 85% domestic workers mentioned that their employers are not paying for the lockdown period while only 15% are being paid. The majority of the workers in big cities are being paid by their employers.
- 23.5% of domestic workers migrated back to their native place as their spouse/ fathers were daily wage workers like painters, mason etc. These workers are mostly from the big cities. 76.5% workers are still staying in the cities/ towns where they work as they are living with their families.
- Only 41.5% of the domestic workers were aware about the Govt. Helplines to avail the facilities being provided during the lockdown period.
- Majority of the domestic workers (98.5%) are aware about the precautions that should be taken to be safe from COVID-19.