Over a week into the new month, several domestic workers in the city are yet to receive their monthly pay, even if their employers have assured to pay them in full for March.
Facing curbs on mobility amid the lockdown, many domestic helps have not been able to visit their employers to collect their pay and are facing a cash crunch. Their supplies have started to run out, and they need the money to buy essentials, said Eknath Mane, president of the Gharkamgar Molkarni Sangathana (GMS).
Mane said at least 1,000 women, who are members of their union, travel to homes in Dadar, Prabhadevi, Jogeshwari and Goregaon from far flung suburbs of Nallasopara and Virar. “The domestic jobs in Vasai-Virar areas don’t pay as well as those in the city, that is why they all work here. Many of them lived in these areas before but moved to Vasai-Virar after they couldn’t afford to pay rent for accommodation here. Since the trains are not working, these women have no means of coming to collect their salaries,” said Mane.
And many who work closer to their homes are afraid to venture out of their homes. “The Worli Koliwada area is locked down, there have been positive coronavirus cases in Prabhadevi, Dadar areas too, so these women are also worried about their own safety,” said Mane. He said that domestic helps in the Prabhadevi area would be about 3,000-4,000 and they include widows and sole bread-winners supporting families.
He said that they had undertaken a scheme to open bank accounts for members of the union in 2016 but most of the women failed to keep their accounts active as they would not find the time to go to the bank to make deposits. “Their condition is now worse than it was during demonetisation,” he said.
Babli Rawat, the general secretary of GMS, said that in suburbs of Mumbai too, domestic helps have been facing similar issues. “Take Ambuj Wadi in Malad for example, women from there work in homes in Kandivali, Goregaon. How will they travel during the lockdown?” she said.
Mane said that while these women may find it difficult to travel to their employers, a plan needs to be drawn up to supply ration to them until they can pay for it.
“In some areas, some NGOs have distributed some ration. But where will they get money from if they cannot go to collect their salaries? At least ration should be provided to them. We will request the labour commissioner to do that,” said Mane.
He added that while some women had opened accounts under the PM’s Jan Dhan scheme, not many have been able to visit the bank to check if they have received any amount in their accounts.
“I spoke to one member of our union who said she had received Rs 500 in her account but many women who had opened the zero balance account earlier have not been able to go to the bank to check their account balance. Sometimes you receive an SMS from the bank but not all women are able to access it. Many women have Jan Dhan accounts but it is hard to say at this time how many of them have received the amount in their accounts,” said Mane.
Shahida Shaikh, a resident of Bhagat Singh Nagar in Goregaon, works in two homes in Millat Nagar, Jogeshwari. “We have completely run out of supplies at home. At one job, they paid me in full for March and said that a deadly virus has spread and I should not come to their house anymore. In the other, my employer still owes me Rs 1,000 for last month but I cannot go to collect it since everything is closed. We are having a very hard time,” she said.
Her brother Mohammed Azam Shaikh said, “Every day somebody comes and distributes some food here. It is mostly khichadi. Sometimes we get it just once every day and that’s all we eat. At least if we get dry rations, we can cook our own food. How long can we go on like this?”
In Maharashtra, there are over 1 lakh domestic workers registered with the welfare board constituted under the development commissioner of unorganised labour.
Sunita Mhaiskar, Assistant Commissioner, department of labour, said, “Our minister has already appealed to employers not to cut salaries of domestic workers. We are on a drive. We are seeking information of all domestic workers from housing societies all over Maharashtra. A pension scheme is being formulated and there are other things in the pipeline.” She added that it is possible to help registered domestic workers with a one-time aid. While a decision is yet to be taken, the state labour department is working towards finding a solution to the situation, said Mhaiskar.