‘We Can’t Work From Home’: B’luru Domestic Workers Want to be Paid

While many  said they weren’t paid for April-May, workers above 60 years said residents fear they may get corona.

4 min read

On Friday, 15 May afternoon, a day after Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced relief measures for migrant workers, farmers and street vendors, domestic workers in Bengaluru staged a protest demanding minimum wage and due attention from the government.

Most of them, marching nearly 10 kilometres from Bandepalya to the Labour Commissionerate at Dairy Circle to get the attention of the authorities, were dressed in red.

Several aged domestic workers working in areas such as JP Nagar, Whitefield, Koramangala and Marathahalli said that residents had barred those above 55 years of age from coming to work in many apartment complexes, fearing they were more vulnerable to contracting the coronavirus, thus putting them and their families at risk.

Results of an informal survey conducted on nearly 8,000 domestic workers in some areas of Bengaluru, showed as many as 7,485 said that they had not been allowed back into apartment complexes for work, even as home ministry guidelines state RWAs cannot prevent domestic workers, electricians or security guards from coming to work, and earning a living.

Around 30 domestic helps gathered for the protest. The labour commissioner met SJS head Geeta Menon, a social activist, and said that the demands would be considered and authorities would discuss the possibility of issuing a joint directive with the city corporation, ordering RWA to not deny them work by dismissing them without reason.

Several domestic workers said that they had been asked not to come to work for the last two months. Despite PM Modi’s and CM Yediyurappa’s appeal to people to compensate their employees even when they were not working, they had been shortchanged by their long-term employers.

According to a survey conducted by Sree Jagruti Samiti, an organization championing the cause of domestic workers, only 323 workers said they had been paid for the month of April, as many residents refused to cough up dues for the months where they had not been able to go to work.

‘They Said We’re Old and Shouldn’t Come to Their House Anymore’

Dhanalakshmi, a 65-year-old who has been working in some houses for the last 25 years, said that she she has been forced to sit at home for the last 60 days.

“I can’t believe this is the reward I am getting for working faithfully for so many years. When I went to their houses, they said I shouldn’t come anymore. I used to even take care of their kids, including washing and feeding them. Suddenly they don’t need me,” she said.

While many  said they weren’t paid for April-May, workers above 60 years said residents fear they may get corona.
Dhanalaskhmi, 65 years old. Her poster reads: ‘’Include Domestic Workers, Pay Us Rs 5,00 Too”
(Photo: The Quint/Arpita Raj)

‘Come When Coronavirus Ends’

Radha said that they had been told to join work after ‘coronavirus ends’ and residents were not paying them or inquiring about their financial condition.

“We cannot work from home. I have a handicapped husband and two children to take care of. They know my situation. Some have paid half the amount, about Rs 1000-1200 but nobody has paid the full salary. Even at fair price shops, they give 1 kg rice and 1 kg dal, how many months can we survive on that? Don’t we need to buy other things? Nobody is helping us. If we eat, we will live, otherwise not.
Radha, domestic workers for 10 years.
While many  said they weren’t paid for April-May, workers above 60 years said residents fear they may get corona.
(Photo: The Quint/Arpita Raj)

Another lady Shantamma, said she had the same problems.

“I used to travel 15 kilometres to work in a few houses in Koramangala from Bandepalya. They are not ready to even talk to us. How much loan can we take?,” she said.

Geeta Menon said that in many apartments domestic workers were treated poorly, often being asked to take separate lifts and denying entry to senior citizen workers, with the decision-making power over their entry lying with the RWAs.

“Their attitudes have been negative towards the domestic workers, and in some places residents allowing their workers to return has resulted in people being asked to sign waivers that they would be responsible for the health of the other residents if anything were to happen,” she said.

The domestic workers are demanding Rs 10,000 for each domestic worker for 3 months, initiate discussion with RWAs, pension for senior citizens and to be part of the Rs 1610 crore relief package announced for handloom weavers, MSMEs, farmers and others so far.

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