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

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Recovery as Resilience

Domestic Work and Workers in the Aftermath of COVID-19

Drawing upon the two surveys of domestic workers in Jaipur in May and November 2020, this paper traces the contours of “recovery” from the pandemic beyond just returning to work. Instead, it argues that the estimations of recovery must have a deeper consideration of savings and debt, looks at the changes in employment dynamics, and marks the shifting bargaining capacities of workers. 

How should we speak of recovery of informal workers in the aftermath of COVID-19 and its attendant lockdowns? In 2021, scholarship on economic recovery has rightly focused on employment (are workers back to work), income (are they earning the same sum or similar as before?), and consumption (are households able to spend according to their needs?). When measured against December 2019March 2020, that is before the declarations of the first lockdown, data from August 2020 to December 2020 reported a gradual recovery of employment and income with a slower return to consumption levels.1 We write alongside this scholarship and suggest that three additional components should be part of any conceptualisation of recovery: (i) a deeper consideration of savings and debt, (ii) changes in the dynamics of employment within specific sectors especially within the informal economy, and (iii) shifts in the bargaining capacities of workers and worker associations.

We do so by drawing on the two impact surveys conducted in partnership with the Rajasthan Mahila Kaamgar Union (RMKU) in Jaipura trade union of over 8,000 active members who are all domestic workers. The first survey interviewed 501 workers in the early May 2020 in the midst of the first set of lockdowns (see, Chowdhury et al [2020] for detailed findings). It used February as the baseline month and assessed both the impact of the first two months of lockdowns (March/April) on domestic workers and their households as well as the coping mechanisms they used to survive. The survey measured the income and employment of the domestic worker and their spouse as well as their housing conditions with a focus on rent, utility costs, and food and essential consumption. Drawing from the discussions in trade union meetings on how workers were coping with the lockdowns, it then also looked closely at debt, saving, relief, and aid from public and private sources. During the survey period, incidents of COVID-19 infection were negligible among these surveyed workers.

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Published On : 20th Jan, 2024

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