Domestic helps are not allowed to touch lift buttons and use parks in highly discriminatory directives from RWAs (Resident Welfare Associations) of Elite Gurgaon along with mandatory CBC tests.
After a long period of unsalaried two and a half months, the domestic helps of Gurgaon (Gurugram) are finally able to resume their respective jobs. As the district administration allowed entry of domestic helps and visitors in its fresh guidelines, several RWAs (Resident Welfare Associations) have taken the onus of issuing their own guidelines for the Domestic Helps in their area which they claim is going to curb the spread of COVID-19. The directives by these RWAs, however, have turned out to be highly discriminatory and further harass the underpaid domestic helps in these difficult times.
The Discriminatory Directives
Shouldn’t Touch Lift Buttons
The directives issued by RWAs of some condominium apartments of DLF Phase5 and Sector-50 of Gurugram bars the domestic workers from ‘touching the lift buttons’. The RWAs have directed the employers to accompany “maids” from the tower lobby to their flats to ensure that they don’t touch the lift buttons.
Kajal Mahto (25) has been working in the city for the past five years. In the past, she had heard about such directives from such RWAs where there were smaller dedicated lifts for the domestic helps. This was the first time where she has witnessed something like that.
“Let alone the buttons in the lift, they are not allowing us to even use the lifts. Many of my friends have told me how they have to use stairs to reach up to twelve-thirteen floors,”
said Kajal. Moreover, the security guards of the areas have been directed to strongly ‘monitor’ the movement of domestic workers and staff. Concerned over the time domestic helps spend in common spaces the RWAs have even told the domestic helps to not sit in the parks and common spaces.
Mandatory CBC Tests
Some of the Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) of the gated condominium of Gurugram have come-up with the idea of mandatory complete blood count (CBC) tests. A complete blood count (CBC) is a blood test used to evaluate overall health and detect disorders like including anemia, infection, and leukemia. Even though the test is not related to COVID-19 anyhow, the domestic helps have been told to present a mandatory report of CBC. In some cases, the domestic workers have also told that they were informed that they will be allowed to work only when they have a “Negative Report of COVID-19”.
The underpaid domestic helps have to bear the cost of the tests all by themselves if they expect to resume to their job. “COVID-19 Tests are very expensive for the domestic workers who have been out of their job for the past few months. These directives are highly condemnable and highlight the way domestic workers are repeatedly being harassed by the RWAs.” said Maya John, convener of NGO, Gharelu Kamgar Union which works for the issues related to domestic helps.
Most of these domestic workers received salaries only upto February 2020, after the nationwide lockdown was imposed, they have not received their salaries of March and were out of jobs for the months of April and May. Now that some movement is resumed many of them have not still received their salaries. Kajal Mahto also faced a similar problem.
“My employer has not paid my due salary and she didn’t even pick my calls during the lockdown. Now they have come up with such rules expecting us to pay for such expensive treatments,” told Kajal in a conversation on phone.
No Public Transport
Another issue that the workers are facing is that of transportation. Public transports are not available and for domestic helps, it is almost impossible to rent a vehicle and go to work. Unable to travel, many domestic workers have been relieved of their jobs without adequate payment or have received pay-cuts for the subsequent months. Considering that these workers have limited to no savings or financial backing, the possibility of their lives being severely affected by the harsh lockdown is extremely high.
Lack Of Legal Recognition
The nationwide lockdown has aggravated the plight of domestic workers in India, and highlighted their lack of adequate rights. The lack of political and legal recognition has left domestic workers structurally and procedurally vulnerable to the conditions of poverty and at the mercy of their employers, exposing them to potential harassment, discrimination, and exploitation.
In his column in Hindustan Times, Gautam Bhatia, a Delhi based advocate has highlighted that ” The pandemic has made evident something that has been on the margins of public discussion for too long — the gap in India’s legal framework when it comes to the rights of domestic workers. The reason for this is that traditionally, domestic work has not been counted as “work” as is commonly understood, in terms of contribution to the economy.”
In the eyes of the law, domestic workers do not fall under the definition of “workmen,” nor is their workplace an “establishment.” This characterization is often used by the Centre to explain the lack of regulation in the industry.
Over 50 million people are employed as domestic helps across the country, with women constituting over 75% of this sector. Children are a part of this workforce; nearly 200,000 minors are estimated to be employed as help.
In the absence of any national policy, domestic workers are freely exploited: since the sector is largely unorganized, these workers are at the mercy of their employers and suffer under abject poverty, little to no education, along with competing demand for job results in their depressed wages.