As a newly joined Human Resource Executive, Daisy* was given unrealistic targets by the company she worked for in Chennai. She was struggling to meet targets when her employer insisted that she finish her job on time. When she attributed the delay in her work to the increased workload, her employer allegedly threatened to send her home in 15 days if she didn’t give the expected output soon. “He said he will make my life miserable,” said Daisy.
This was just one of the instances of harassment, she said. When she retorted to his threats, her employer allegedly said that she would be given a job certificate with a poor performance tag, with which she wouldn’t be able to find a job anywhere else.
Disappointed, Daisy resigned and was subsequently relieved from her job right in the middle of the pandemic. She was the sole breadwinner of the family. Soon, she joined the crop of job seekers in Chennai who did not have a salary certificate. Although Daisy got her job certificate with positive reviews, the company has not given her the salary certificate.
“When I was looking for jobs, I didn’t find any good ones. Earlier the jobs used to have a proper description and we could expect a better salary. However, you can’t think of getting an increased salary during this pandemic. There are so many people looking for jobs and some are even ready to be underpaid, so finding a job was very challenging,” she said.
“Many companies usually treat their employees well so that they can retain the good ones. But now, they ill-treat their workers, knowing that many will not quit in the middle of the pandemic,” said Daisy, who eventually managed to find a job as an HR executive for lesser pay.
Some companies are overburdening employees with unrealistic targets as their profits dwindle. Yet, many young employees do not complain as job opportunities are sparse and salaries have reduced significantly.
Loss of job followed by the job hunt has put additional stress on youngsters, emotionally and mentally.
For the past three months, many job seekers have not been able to find jobs.
The recent national unemployment rate says the rate has fallen since more people go for work. However, the case is different in Tamil Nadu as the state continues to be under lockdown.
In November 2019, the unemployment rate in Tamil Nadu was at 2.5%, as per a study conducted by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE). In April, when the lockdown was in place, the unemployment rate fell to 43.5% as per the study. In May, as the lockdown restrictions were relaxed, the unemployment rate stood at 33%, the study by the same organisation pointed out.
The drastic variation in the unemployment rate shows that many youngsters are looking for jobs, even though there are limited vacancies.
Parveen* has also been looking for a job for the past month. Before the lockdown, she was working in a printing press and simultaneously doing her Master’s in Psychology via correspondence. She was hoping to complete the degree and look for a better job to support her family.
However, things took a turn for the worse when the lockdown began. She lost her job at the printing press in May, and her father also lost his job. “This pushed my family into great financial distress. I need to work now, that’s the only way my family can survive, but I’m not getting any job,” she told TNM.
Parveen has applied for more than 30 jobs in the last three weeks but in vain. “I’ve started applying for any kind of job that I come across. I’ve stopped seeing the job description anymore. I just need a job that will pay me. The pandemic has forced me to put a pause to my passion. In fact, this period has also taught me that passion doesn’t pay,” she said.
Parveen was earlier looking for a job as a content writer but there are no adequate vacancies. Besides, companies in Chennai offer only Rs 6,000-7,000 per month for such posts.
An HR Executive at a five-star hotel in Coimbatore, Shravan* thought he was settled in life when he landed the job. His aim to work hard and prove his mettle at the job was short-lived when he received an official email stating that he was terminated.
“Everything happened in the blink of an eye. I never imagined this would happen. My performance was appreciated by everyone, I never thought I’d be terminated,” said Shravan, who is yet to come to terms with his dismissal, adding, “I’ll start looking for another job but as things are unclear in the current situation, I’m yet to decide what jobs to apply for.”
Kavya*, another job seeker, too, finds herself in a spot. “Earlier, there were a lot of job opportunities for content writing, public relations and corporate communications in many startups. But now, I don’t see any vacancies. I was drawing a monthly salary of around Rs 25,000. The new jobs are ready to pay only Rs 15,000 per month,” she said.
Although many are desperately looking for a job, they are not ready to compromise on the pay.
“Why should I take up a job for less pay? If the company is not ready to pay adequately, they should not hire. I lost my job in the middle of the pandemic due to no fault of mine. I’m planning to wait till I get a proper job but I’m unsure when the search will end,” Kavya said.
While many are losing their jobs amidst the pandemic, experts point to a worrying trend – more women are likely to lose their jobs than men. Our patriarchal society provides an opportunity for men to immediately look out for another job while women have to go through several hurdles to get back to the position they were holding before the lockdown, they said.
Swarna Rajagopalan, political scientist and founder of Prajnya Trust – a Chennai-based NGO focusing on gender equality, said, “Women are called for support during a crisis. Even during the Second World War, women went to help. This lockdown, however, has pushed more women back into their homes and their workload has doubled or tripled. Work-from-home productivity comes under question because of this.”
She further explained, “The economy is shrinking badly. When there are job cuts, whose jobs are deemed more essential? In a patriarchal society, it’s deemed that whatever happens a man has to work. Even if women contribute to the same post, their pay is comparatively less.”
The new changes in labour laws everywhere also paint a worrisome picture, Swarna said.
“Women are ultimately going to pay a price for all this. I’d love to see more women coming to politics by the end of this period to make policy changes. But this pandemic may end their aspirations for public engagement. We need to think about how we can mitigate the possibility of this outcome,” she said, suggesting that the next step is to involve more women in the workforce.
(*Names changed on request)