- Should you give a paid leave to your domestic help amidst the pandemic coronavirus (Covid-19)?
- But, people across India are cutting salaries on per day basis, so why shouldn’t I?
If you are someone who is still asking the questions mentioned above while contemplating if you should give paid leaves to your house help, now is the time to act.
Many of us sit in front of our laptops and comfortably work from home to keep ourselves safe from coronavirus. However, thousands of people from the underprivileged class still step out for their livelihood.
This group comprises domestic help, drivers, wage labourers, cleaners and other such essential service providers.
In a crisis like this, where India’s death toll has risen to nine and close to 500 people have tested positive, it is extremely crucial to practice social distancing and avoid human-to-human transmissions. (Click here to know 12 authorised private labs to get tested)
The rate of transmission also underlines the same. As per India’s Covid-19 statistics, first 50 people were infected with the virus within 40 days and merely five more days to touch 100. As per figures, the number of cases is increasing twofold within five days or less. By the end of May, which is barely two months from now, the cases are likely to go in millions.
However, all is not gloomy as a recent study by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) revealed that social distancing measures may reduce the infectious transmission risk by 62 per cent.
Another important point to consider seriously is that most of these marginalised reside in crowded clusters where the virus can spread rapidly due to a lack of social distancing.
Take for example the case of a house help from Mumbai’s central suburb who was tested positive last week.
She became the first slum dweller in the city to get infected without any travel history. The 68-year-old got the virus from her US-returned employer.
Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is currently tracing her contact history. She has not only put her family at risk but also the two households she works for and 300 families in the slum.
The Better India spoke to Mumbai-based General Physician, Dr Jesal Sanghvi to clear doubts concerning the working and health conditions of the domestic workers. Here’s a glimpse:
Will it make any difference if just my domestic help is entering my house?
It is dangerous, as you won’t know their exact route from their home to yours and the number of people they came in contact.
I have provided hand sanitisers to my domestic help and we follow all hygiene protocols. Can the virus still be transmitted?
The maximum a domestic help will do is wash their hands and face. Transmission of coronavirus commonly occurs through fomites such as objects or materials like clothes and mobile phones. It is best to now allow any outsider to enter the house.
I have a domestic servant living with us in our home. What should I do?
Live-in help poses no threat and people inside the house will only have to follow safety protocols like washing hands ever 2-3 hours.
If I call the help every alternate day, does it reduce my risk by half?
No, it will certainly not reduce the risk. What if the day they come to your house is the same day they came in contact with a person having the virus?
My help stays very close by and thus does not take public transport. Am I still at risk?
Again, you cannot be sure about their contact history. Even if they are coming from a distance of less than a kilometre, chances are they might get infected through other means.
Why Are Paid Leaves Important?
“We are in a very critical situation right now and irresponsible or careless behaviour can cost us a lot. Any form of human physical interaction is dangerous. Social distancing may not work 100 per cent but it can surely slow the spread of coronavirus. India must ‘flatten the curve’ to avoid unnecessary sufferings and deaths,” adds Dr Sanghvi.
But it is critical to pay them their monthly salary, to ensure they can remain at home, and not spread the virus uncontrollably.
“It is a very common practice to cut payments of house help on per day basis, thus forcing many to continue work. Even if they miss 2-3 days of work, it can severely affect their family income,” says Mary Christin, National Co-Ordinator of Mumbai-based National Domestic Workers’ Movement (NDWM).
NDWM is a 40-year-old Union that works for the rights of domestic workers in India engaging over 50,000 of them.
Rajmohan Panda, additional professor at the Public Health Foundation of India, echoes Mary’s words and rightly labels social distancing a ‘luxury’ for informal workers and says, “Without the luxury of social security and insurance, the loss of income even if temporary will also affect hygiene and nutrition, thereby making them more susceptible to the virus.”
Take, for instance, the case of Urmila, who cooks in several Mumbai homes. Though she worked for 18 days in March, two of her employers are refusing to give the entire month’s salary if she does not show up at work.
“It is month-end, and there is very little money to buy food, let alone stock groceries for the future. For people like me, everything boils down to either saving my job or my life,” she says.
So she does go to work – every day, whatever the risks to herself or society as a whole. Perhaps a dangerous, but overlooked, point of contact.
In contrast, Bhagyama from RT Nagar in Bengaluru is one of the fortunate maids to avail paid leave option.
It has been close to five days since she stepped outside her house for work. Up till last week, she used to go to eight homes every day.
One of her employers, Geeta Rachh, a resident of Queens Corner Apartment, was the first one to ask her to discontinue.
“I run a PG and considering the amount of work her services are essential for me. However, asking her to compromise on her health by travelling seven kilometres every day is very unfair. I have given her paid leave till 31 March and depending on the situation, I will extend the date,” she tells me.
“Had my employers not given me paid leaves, I was contemplating on taking an auto daily to avoid exposing myself to people,” Bhagyama tells TBI. She usually travels by public bus.
If Bhagyama were forced to do so, she would be one in a chain that could affect hundreds including every member of those eight homes.
Indeed, along with paid leaves, raising awareness is critical if we want to battle this virus.
Vidya, a media professional from Gurugram has two helps at her house (for cooking and cleaning), and both of them are on paid leaves till 31 March.
On their last days, Vidya gave them hand sanitisers and instructions on how to practice social distancing. (Buying overcharged hand sanitizers? Complain here)
“There is a dangerous virus, but didi (Vidya) told me to wash our hands and not touch anything. I am now aware of the stages of coronavirus and names of hospitals in Delhi-NCR where people can get tested,” says Shila Sadu, Vidya’s help.
A small step, but this compassion will go a long way in keeping everyone safe. Remember, it is not just about ensuring just your home is ‘safe’, but keeping the virus at bay as a whole.
By forcing some to take the risk still, we are putting us all at risk. For example, even a single stubborn instance of insisting help turn up if they want to be paid in a housing society can be the first spark of a chain reaction.
Health and well-being of your loved ones is the first priority and our domestic help workforce form an integral part of that chain.
By letting your domestic help stay at home without affecting their financial situation, you are not only ensuring their safety but also yours.
Isolation, understanding and empathy never hurt anyone!
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(Edited By Vinayak Hegde)