The COVID-19 scare has shut the doors on the livelihood of nearly five lakh domestic helps in the State.
While some residents associations of apartment complexes in Kochi have formally asked the women workforce to stay away, the shutting down of the public transport system has further cut the job avenues of thousands of others.
Kochi is considered to be the largest employer of domestic helps in the State. It is estimated that around two lakh women earn their living by working as domestic helps in apartment complexes, houses, high-rises, and hospitals in the city. Besides housekeeping, they also engage themselves as cooks and care givers at homes and institutions.
Women from suburbs like Vypeen, Kadamakkudi, Pizhala, Panangad, Kalamassery, and Aluva used to commute to the city and back to earn a living. While most of them were paid between 250 and 350 for a days work, others engaged in shops and offices used to get up to 4,000 a month.
It is more than a week since Thankamany Prasad, 62, from Pizhala has gone for work as the shop that employed her has downed shutters. Besides the attendants job at the shop, she used to double up as part-time help at a home in the city. With no bus services, how will I reach the city? No one has spoken about wages of days on which I could not turn up for work, she lamented. The National Empress Garden Owners Association, Vennala, has asked its nearly 20 women helps not to come for work until further notice. The association took the decision as a precautionary measure in the wake of reports of the spread of the disease, said Boban George, its president.
At the same time, the association has permitted some families with aged members to engage workers at their own risk, he added.
Regarding wages, Mr. George said a decision was yet to be taken.
Half the women who used to work at Lotus Garden Apartments, Thripunithura, have not been reporting since Monday, though Lotus Garden Welfare Association has not asked anyone to abstain from work, said S. Krishnan Nair, its president. The association has decided to hire an autorickshaw to pick and drop the two workers to run its bio-waste management facility, he added.
While some families have graciously offered to give full pay for its helps, uncertainty looms over the lives of several others in the absence of any such assurances.
Earlier, said a woman who worked as cleaning staff at a city college, the management used to deduct wages for the days on which we were absent. Since the outbreak, they have asked us not to come. Yet, they have not communicated on the salary for the days lost, she added.
Sonia George, State secretary of Self-Employed Womens Association, Kerala, urged employers and families to pay at least half the salary to workers during the time of crisis. With no job and income, women helps are heading for a crisis, said Ms. George.