Although the Tamil Nadu government has provided Rs 1000 cash assistance, many point out that this isn’t enough to survive the lockdown.

Forced to skip meals break into savings Unorganised workers in TN struggleImage for representation/PTI
Coronavirus Coronavirus Monday, April 13, 2020 - 14:52

A single mother to a final year B.Com student, 40-year-old Sathiya, who is a tailor in Chennai, struggles to make ends meet. With no orders from nearby shops, and tasked with taking care of two relatives stuck in the city due to the lockdown, Sathiya was forced to break into her savings, which have now run dry. The four of them have had no choice but to live on two meals a day to survive the rest of the lockdown. 

Sathiya says her meagre savings of Rs 1000 managed to get them through the first few days of the lockdown. “I had savings not more than Rs 1,000 as I was regularly paying my mobile phone EMI and Rs 8,000 rent,” she says, “After separating from my husband a few years ago, I fell ill. This restricted me from working overtime.” 

While the tailor normally earns Rs 10,000 a month, she says that the March 25 lockdown reduced her income. “Last month, I didn’t even manage to make Rs. 10,000.”

The Tamil Nadu government’s cash assistance of Rs 1000 to all family card holders is simply not enough, says Sathiya, noting, “The government has given only Rs 1,000. We cannot run the household with this money.”

Like Sathiya, members of the unorganised sector are among the worst hit in Tamil Nadu. The workforce has come to a halt following the nationwide lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While thousands face job losses, others have had their wages cut. This despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi urging employers to not cut the salary of workers during the lockdown.  

Workers like Selvi who received their full pay in the month of February are anxious not knowing when their next salary day will come. A househelp and the sole breadwinner of her family, 59-year-old Selvi has to take care of her alcoholic husband. Her three sons are married and settled in the outskirts of Chennai but have stopped helping her for a year due to personal reasons. 

Having only been paid for 23 working days in March, Selvi says now she manages with the rations provided by the state government - which includes free rice, dal, edible oil and sugar. 

“Difficult times started for us by early this month. Now I rely only on the ration with hopes that I would receive a call to join work soon. I am happy that I received the ration and the financial aid because without that I do not know what our condition would have been,” says Selvi.     

And while the government’s assistance came as a temporary relief for workers, the problem of paying rent and managing the money lenders had robbed them of their sleep.      

‘Give concessions to the vulnerable’ 

Explaining the plight of the workers once the lockdown is lifted, Kannan, CITU president, Kanchipuram says, there are workers who live completely on loans. Once the lockdown is lifted the lenders will start putting pressure on them which may lead to mental agony, he adds.

Quoting a report from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), Kannan says, “Unemployment rate has increased strikingly from 6% to 23% during the pandemic bringing financial loss to many. Also, around 2.45 crore workers of the unorganised sector in Tamil Nadu are experiencing a great amount of financial loss. If the lockdown is extended the loss would be more." 

Pointing out that the price of gloves, sanitisers and other equipment to protect oneself from coronavirus are high, Kannan wondered how Rs 1000 cash would help. 

Kannan expects that it will take more than a year to return to normalcy, stating, “The government should increase the financial aid from Rs 1,000 to Rs 5,000 so that the labourers follow the lockdown. The government should also provide loan waivers and concessions for the vulnerable workers to survive during the lockdown.”

 “When the government of India provides a concession for the corporate industries, why don't they give concessions or loan waivers for the vulnerable workers,” he asks.

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