ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Crisis behind Closed Doors

Domestic Workers’ Struggles during the Pandemic and Beyond

The impact of the national lockdown due to COVID-19 on domestic workers in New Delhi and Gurugram is examined. Through extensive surveys with members of three labour unions, it was found that not only were domestic workers able to find less work, but were also paid lower wages, while unable to access government schemes or financial or in-kind support from their employers. This points to a dire need for policies that protect domestic workers’ interests.

 

We are grateful for feedback and guidance from Reetika Khera and Jean Drèze right from the inception of this research idea. We would like to thank Anita Kapoor and her team at Shahri Gharelu Kaamgar Union, Anita Kumari and her team at Gurgaon Mahila Kaamgar Sangathan, and Usha ji and her team for sharing valuable insights and constant support. We would also like to thank our surveyors for helping us conduct the interviews and for their dedication to the project. Lastly, and most crucially, we are extremely grateful to our respondents—the domestic workers who took out the time from their busy day, despite the ongoing hardships, to answer our survey and share their stories with us.
 

Domestic work, like most of the global care economy, largely comprises work done inside the household such as cleaning, washing clothes and utensils, cooking, childcare and elderly care. This work is done across cities in India by poor and unskilled migrant women, from marginalised communities, coming from rural districts in India. Their work is invisible, undervalued, and unrecognised. While some estimates are available, the exact numbers of domestic workers in India remain unavailable. Government estimates (NSS 2005) indicate this number to be close to 4.75 million, while the civil society claims this to be a gross under-estimation, with real figures being close to 50 million domestic workers in India (WIEGO 2014).

The literature so far has documented the financial toll on domestic workers and other informal workers because of the government-imposed lockdown in 2020. The lockdown disproportionately hit Indias informal and unregulated sector workers who are engaged in manual work, yet this impact remains largely unquantified. Additionally, the lockdown had a worse impact on women, who lost their jobs first, and were the slowest to recover (Chiplunkar et al 2020). Since domestic workers work in a private household without a formal work contract, job losses amongst their employers, who are usually urban employees, has exacerbated their plight. Financial strain in the households they work in can impact not only whether they have a job at all, but also the wages they receive and the environment in these households.

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Published On : 20th Jan, 2024

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