COVID 19 is changing the dynamics of many industries around the country, causing some to shrink and even close while making a few prosper. While many of the workers are only cyclically unemployed and should be rehired soon as the new normal emerges, there are some without such hopeful prospects; moreover, these workers were already in dire states before the pandemic: domestic workers.
Maids and other domestic workers are rather common–or were–in much of the upper-class areas of Pakistan. Many of them managed to eke out a living through their precarious jobs—until now. Thanks to COVID 19, many Pakistani households are now reluctant to let maids into their houses, lest they may be carriers of the virus and potentially spread it around the house. The worry is undoubtedly well-founded but disastrous for the maids, cooks, cleaners, et alia. These workers already had miserable jobs: meager pay, strenuous long hours, unhygienic work, and no socio-economic protection. There have also been widespread reports on domestic workers abuse: Outrage in Pakistan over abuse of child domestic workers | Saba Karim Khan. Now, the domestic workers will lose their jobs, or at least see their working hours, and maybe even hourly wages (for their bargaining power has now fallen) plunge.
The implications of this shakeup are grand, especially considering the sheer number of domestic workers in Pakistan: 8.5 million, in 2015, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO) Giving rights to millions of domestic workers in Pakistan. Domestic work is the biggest industry in the informal sector, providing a lifeline for many families. Most of these workers are children and women, who already face dire prospects in other industries. Once they lose their jobs, they are ultimately left with no income, no food, and no hope, because 99% of them don’t have any workers’ union vouching for them. And in such dire states, the only option they’re left with now is to beg on the streets—a rather dehumanizing outcome.
Not only is this disastrous for the domestic workers, but it’s also bad for the economy. We’re talking about 8.5 million workers here (potentially even more), at least half of whom would lose their means of income and see drastic fall in their consumption. This will drag the economy down, further reducing aggregate demand and GDP. The unemployment rate will rise. Though these workers’ effort, wages, and jobs may not be documented in official figures, when they purchase fewer goods themselves, they will reduce demand for other goods and hence also the demand for workers in other industries, causing rippling effects throughout the economy.
Moreover, as many households end up without the help of domestic workers, they will have to change their lifestyles; they may find less time for their own jobs and work—their productivity falls and they contribute less towards the economy. Adam Smith’s fundamental idea of division of labor is how economies grow and everyone benefits. You do what you do best, and I do what I do best.
This can not only be a grave humanitarian crisis, but also an economic one. That is unless we do something.
Online websites are emerging where domestic workers can register and offer their services Mauqa Online: Verified Maids, Cooks, Cleaners & Babysitters. These websites can reassure households these workers are healthy and showing no symptoms of COVID 19. Admittedly, few domestic workers can, and even fewer would register with the online services. Most are not aware of such services; therefore, making them aware of the online world, and then helping them register, should be of utmost priority. Of course, the most optimal solution would be testing: test the workers for COVID 19 frequently. But then this is rather unrealistic considering the limited supply of tests we have.
Next, once domestic workers lose their jobs, we, as a nation, should ensure they’re reasonably well provided for. We should provide more to charities and NGOs. Moreover, and even better, if we are in touch with these workers, we can directly provide them with food and money. Many Pakistani households are struggling themselves, but the onus is on us—especially the more affluent households and the former employers—to provide for these workers. Besides, if we all donate even a little amount, that can amass to quite a sum.
Domestic workers find pride in what they do; begging on the streets is a dehumanizing prospect for these hardworking individuals. They deserve our attention and resources, particularly in these dire times. As a nation, we haven’t done much to raise their pays and provide a better standard of living for them; now, the least we can do is ensure they can keep those meager pays.