Unemployed during lockdown, Bengaluru domestic workers meet labour department

Domestic workers have demanded that they be included among the unorganised workers in Karnataka who got a compensation of Rs 5,000 from the government.
Unemployed during lockdown, Bengaluru domestic workers meet labour department
Unemployed during lockdown, Bengaluru domestic workers meet labour department

As things slowly limp back to normalcy in Karnataka after the easing of lockdown restrictions, lakhs of domestic workers in Bengaluru say they now face unemployment. Radha, a member of the Domestic Workers Rights Union (DWRU) in Bengaluru, said that though some domestic workers were laid off only temporarily during the lockdown, many workers, especially older women, have been asked not to come back to work.

This is why a group of women from the union went to the labour department on Monday morning, to submit a list of their demands and a report of what they were going through. 

The report noted their importance in the urban economy.

“Domestic workers are the silent and invisible backbone of the economy. The last two decades have seen a sharp increase in their participation in the workforce. An estimated  lakh domestic workers live and work in the city of Bengaluru.” 

Their report also noted that their contribution is rarely acknowledged. 

“They constitute a large segment of women urban workers. The large majority of these women do part-time work in multiple households, keeping long hours, facing caste discrimination, assault on their dignity through rude comments from their employers, no social security, and no legal rights as other formal workers like regular leave and bonus. Additionally, with the majority being women, along with the gendered notion of housework, their work is devalued,” the report stated.

The workers have demanded better provisions from the government, specifically on compensation for wages and the jobs lost.

Lakshmi, one of the women who work in multiple households in Bengaluru told TNM, “I have been working in apartments around HSR Layout for more than ten years now. But when I went to meet them last week, I was asked not to come again. I am in a lot of financial difficulties as I too have responsibilities. My rent is pending and I have children to look after.”

The union is demanding that the government look into supporting such workers. As part of their demands, they have asked that the Labour Department must ensure the registration of domestic workers as “workers.”

The union has asked that all domestic workers should be included in the social security net and that women above the age of 50 who have lost their jobs be supported with a pension scheme of Rs 3,000 a month. 

“Government (should) issue mandatory orders to all employers to retain the domestic workers and if dismissed, a wage compensation of ₹10,000 per month should be given for three months,” the union has demanded.

The union has also asked for cash transfers for domestic workers, similar to the compensation that auto drivers and cab drivers have received. 

“The Karnataka government has announced a relief package for unorganised sector workers, including a cash transfer of Rs 5,000. This currently does not include domestic workers and steps must be taken urgently to rectify this.”

Demands for Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs)

Besides the financial crunch, the workers who have gone back to work have found that they are being met with social stigma. 

“We are not allowed to use the lifts, we’re not allowed to wait in common areas, and we are facing a certain kind of discrimination,” said Radha. 

The report said, “(Domestic workers) cannot be removed from premises for waiting in the common area. This is their natural waiting space. Instead, proper training on social distancing must be provided by apartments to domestic workers. Domestic workers must not be discriminated against or looked at as “higher risk” individuals. They must not be advised to “not take the lift” and no such discriminatory practices should be implemented.” 

The workers have also demanded that the attitudes of the employers should be changed to consider them as care workers. “We are also aware and keeping ourselves clean, wearing masks and taking precautions,” she said.

Rasha said that in many apartment complexes, Resident Welfare Organisations were not willing to allow workers back even if the employer wanted to resume work. 

For this, the union asked, “Apartment owners must pay their domestic workers full wages for the period of the lockdowns and any ongoing and future period where domestic workers are not being prohibited from coming to their place of employment.” They also asked that “Under no circumstances must domestic workers be threatened to come to work if they are unwilling to.”

For the safety of the workers, they asked that a regular supply of fresh masks, gloves and hand sanitisers be provided by the apartments to every domestic worker, just like in any other workplace.

Besides, to address the issue of their dignity, the union said, “Guards and facility managers must be trained on treating the domestic workers with due respect. Domestic workers must be given the contact number of a member of an internal or external complaints committee for escalating any matters regarding discrimination, exploitation or violation of their dignity.”

The union also said that they didn’t have enough data about workers who live with their employers. So they have demanded that a directive should be published to all Resident Welfare Associations and employers to furnish all information about live-in domestic workers, and their health and working conditions.

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