The Crumbling Plight of laborers, Sex Workers, Domestic Helps Amidst Pandemic

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The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the sludge beneath the sheen of our Global cities in a so-called ‘Shining India’. The spotlight has been turned on those who remain in the city’s shadows in ‘normal’ times – the millions of migrant workers who build our cities.

In India, domestic work has never been appreciated much and is always disposed at the bottom of the employment structure garnering low social status and conventional ignorance. The lack of political and legal recognition has left domestic workers structurally and procedurally vulnerable to the conditions of poverty and at the mercy of their employers, exposing them to potential harassment, discrimination, and exploitation.

With the stifling of economic activity brought on by the prolonged Nationwide lockdown, Indian Domestic workers are now being confronted with increased hardships and financial challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic has made evident the precarious nature of their marginalization and the urgent need to address the situation. Therefore, as social distancing measures are likely to continue, the Indian government should consider bringing in new legislation to protect the rights of these domestic workers.

Thousands of Sex workers across India are enduring the same nightmare. According to local institution reports, over 5,000 girls work as prostitutes in Delhi’s G B Road Area. Many of them live in rented rooms in different parts of the city and around 1,500 live in G B Road’s red-light district.

There has been a complete ban on their activities for weeks as a result of the coronavirus lockdown.

Mirai Chatterjee, who is based in densely populated Ahmedabad, a northern city of more than 5 million, knows this better than anyone.

The poorest and weakest in our society are the women,” said Chatterjee, who directs the social security team for the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), a trade union that supports 1.7 million low-income women who are self-employed.

Under normal circumstances, her members’ lives are punctuated by food and income insecurity, as well as difficulty accessing health care and childcare. Female workers without salaries are struggling to survive. Without daily wages, they don’t have money to buy food or medicine. Few have savings to fall back on.

An analysis of employment and wage data from various national and international organizations suggests that the pandemic-triggered economic crisis is likely to hit women workers harder across all categories — from daily wage laborers to managers at various levels.

With the crumbling Private Sector going for salary and job cuts, the demand for labor will take a big hit. The most affected will be aspirant female workers. The Centre’s Annual Periodic Labor Force Survey (PLFS) 2017-18 had estimated the unemployment rate of graduate women at 32.7 percent in rural India and 24.4 percent in urban areas, compared to 18.1 percent and 11.7 percent, respectively, for graduate men. There is an emerging trend that has been seen in the employment section for those who are done with their higher secondary education.

A report by the International Labor Organization (ILO), published in 2018, has also noted a wide gender disparity in India’s workforce. “Female workers are paid a lower wage rate than their male counterparts in each employment category (casual and regular/salaried) and location (urban and rural), although the differences are smaller — on an average — in urban than in rural areas,” said the ILO’s ‘India Wage Report’.

One would expect the concept of equal pay for work of equal value for the same occupation categories to apply to male and female workers. Unfortunately, this is not the case in India, where the wages in all occupations or divisions reflect gender inequality, the ILO report said.

The National Sample Survey Office (NSSO)’s 2017 data show that the average daily wage rates for general agricultural men and women laborers are ₹264.05 and ₹205.32, respectively, the latter being 22.24 percent lower. For non-agricultural laborers, the average daily wage rate was ₹271.17 for men and ₹205.90 for women, or 24.06 percent lower. The lower wages are now likely to further push women into poverty and increase their dependence on male relatives.

An estimated 3.9 million workers are employed by private households in the country, of which 1.3 million are male and 2.6 million are female. These workers do not have any social or financial security network and their situation is expected to worsen post-COVID-19.

What the Government is failing to counter with an apt solution that the Women’s accessibility to her basic rights like employment and Safety is still an eminent issue which reached its zenith during the whole Lockdown and Social Distancing ensued due to the onslaught of the perilous Coronavirus. And serious efforts infused with utmost care is required from the Government. 

These odd job workers are the cornerstone of our economy, meaning without them there is no future as they help us to achieve our end-goals by doing the heavy lifting like building houses cooking food, taking care of our family, delivering takeaways, making automobiles, plumbing toilets and delivering newspapers and a lot. Trying to escape poverty in their village they come with a dream to make a decent amount by doing menial jobs. What is more daunting is their living situation as most of them are coming from Jhuggi with less or no facilities.

With so much happening around and the conditions worsening day by day, it is deeply saddening that the Plight of our female workers has plummeted so low that in recent days it will take them forever to stand on their legs again.

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