Women workers demanded that the government pave the way for them to return to work and provide assistance for job losses over the lockdown period.

domestic workers in chennai protest holding yellow chart bearing their demands
news Protest Wednesday, September 02, 2020 - 09:08

Hundreds of domestic workers of the Pengal Thozhilalar Sangam (Women Workers’ Association) staged a protest in Chennai on Tuesday, demanding the state government provide assistance for the income they have lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown. Women workers from the city gathered while adhering to physical distancing norms and urged the government to issue orders calling upon people to re-employ their domestic workers.

Domestic workers from Perumbakkam and Mogappair voiced that they had been subject to social exclusion by their employers during the pandemic.

Speaking to TNM, Karpagam, a domestic worker from Perumbakkam, said that members of Residents’ Welfare Associations (RWAs) of various apartments have told them not to visit the apartment for work until next year.

Karpagam said, “The reason for our protest is mainly because the apartments are not ready to take workers who hail from homes in the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board. The government removed our individual houses and built us homes in Perumbakkam, but if the employers say no to us, where will we go and work?”

With their work having ground to a halt for the past five months, the women point out that the government has not come forward to provide them with adequate help. Karpagam alleged that the assistance announced by the government through the Tamil Nadu Domestic Workers Welfare Board has not reached many of the workers.

While few workers have relied on the largesse of employers who continued paying them through the lockdown period, most others have not had the same experience.

“I was working in three homes and one of them decided to provide me with a salary. But the second family did not talk about the salary and the third family even left the city. I am paying debts and am dependent on the money for everyday needs. If I am one of the lucky persons, then imagine the plight of others. A few people are fainting and starving of hunger in the Resettlement Board houses,” said Karpagam.

Hunger and starvation can lead to rise in theft and crime, observed Karpagam.

“I am afraid to even wear a nose ring due to fear of theft but, if there is no adequate assistance or if there is no employment opportunity, what can people do? They will attack us to save their children. Liquor shops are also open,” she said.

The workers demanded that the government issue an order telling employers to allow them to return to work.

“It was only in apartments that people stayed in home quarantine. In Perumbakkam, even the few people who tested positive for the coronavirus were taken to hospital and their homes were sanitised. So I should be the one who is scared to go to their home. But because of poverty, I am forced to go and ask for work. The government should stop this exclusion and order for us to be included,” said Karpagam.

Sujata Mody, president, Pengal Thozhilalar Sangam, said, “In Mogappair, only few women continue to do their job as domestic workers. Most of the employers who are scared of infection spread have not called them back for work. The lack of public transportation till Monday also meant that the workers could not go for work. Since private transportation was already fleecing passengers, the government should have continued public transportation with a thin fleet. The lack of transportation all these days has led to loss of livelihood in many homes.”

The activist said that the government was not ready to listen to the concerns of the workers nor suggestions by experts in the field. “The government should have involved more women in the fight against the pandemic since women are better planners. The government does not hear our concerns and they do not understand that women have a role to control the pandemic.”

The protesters demanded the government to provide Rs 10,000 as assistance to survive the job losses and free bus passes to commute in the city.

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