In its latest assessment of the impact of the ongoing pandemic on the workers of the world, International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that more than two-thirds of the 67 million domestic workers across the world have been adversely impacted by the pandemic and the measures taken to contain its spread. About 11 million migrant domestic workers are estimated to have lost their jobs; others live in permanent fear of losing their work and income with deepening economic crisis because of the pandemic. The lack of social protection and security is not new, because domestic workers are part of the most vulnerable segment of the working class within an ever expanding informal workforce in all regions of the world. As the ILO puts it, only approximately 10 percent of all domestic workers get limited social protection which is important to ensure their safety and the well being of their families. Further, a majority of the domestic workers have no job security, guarantee of minimum wages, paid leave, no pension or provident fund, and no access to affordable education and health care.
The impact of the pandemic and lockdown strategies to deal with its spread, have been embedded in the vulnerabilities that have arisen from the above mentioned features of domestic work within India and the rest of the world. Again, as per the ILO, half of the domestic workers are estimated to have lost their work by 25 March 2020, whereas more than two-thirds were impacted by 2 June 2020, when the pandemic was reaching its peak. Though the report presents no data on different countries, it identifies several regions such as South Asia with concentration of domestic workers, where such workers are experiencing an intense adverse impact of the pandemic because of the lack of an appropriate policy framework. In India too, a few surveys have pointed towards the loss of livelihood, and the growing insecurity and despair amongst domestic workers; for example a small indicative survey in Delhi surmised that 83 percent of the domestic workers reported a severe or moderate economic crisis1. Another rapid assessment by a union in Bangalore surmised that about 91 percent of the workers were neither paid, nor have been asked to come back to work since the imposition of the lockdown on 24 March 2020.2
To understand the critical situation of domestic workers due to the pandemic and identify concrete demands, the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), the largest women’s organisation in the country, decided to conduct a nationwide survey. A large section of the membership of AIDWA comprises of women working in informal labour, many of whom are domestic workers. It has been organising and unionising them in different parts of the country in order to ensure their visibility as ‘workers’ and fight for their basic rights to livelihood, social security and protection.