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How Not To Treat Your Domestic Worker When She Returns From Pandemic Leave

Posted: May 19, 2020

Domestic workers have been hit hard by the lockdown. Now, as things ease up, do your bit and try not to be petty?

Congratulations. You have successfully made it past lockdown #3 and your apartment RWA has finally made that most eagerly awaited for announcement: Domestic Workers Allowed.

As domestic workers begin returning to work, here are a few things to not do:

Do not spray your domestic worker with disinfectant

Yes, a video of such a thing is actually floating around. Not only is it physically ineffective, it is psychologically harmful and can also actually be dangerous, causing respiratory illnesses.

If you forget that she is a human being (as many often do), and imagine that this is indeed a good thing to do, first try it on yourself. Sounds good?

Do not assume that she is ‘dirty’

Do not assume that she will be the carrier of corona into your house. Yes, there are real risks involved with letting someone come in to your house from the outside world, but the risks are not only to do with poor people.

Some risk factors such as lack of social distancing in cramped spaces and the use of common toilets may be more applicable to poor people, but others such as travel history or contact with a covid-positive person are a function of many factors. The assumption of poor people being dirty is deeply (even subconsciously), linked to caste prejudice in India. Learn about it.

If it works for both of you, you could offer her a place to stay, but otherwise, if you are asking your domestic worker to come in everyday, treat her with the same safety precautions but also the same respect that you would for anyone else entering your home at this time. This means, offer sanitiser, good hand wash facilities, bathroom access like you would for anyone at home.

Update (27/05/2020): As though to illustrate this point, a new ad emerged for an automated dough maker, to help you avoid the ‘maid’s infected hands’.

Do not tell her she had it easy

Do not snark that that you gave her a ‘paid vacation’. Even if you paid her. These months have been harrowing for poor people. Chances are that her family has lost a significant portion of their income and struggled to meet even basic needs. If she has children, they would not have had ‘online schooling’. She has been worried about falling sick, living in cramped spaces, unable to maintain social distancing. She has not been chilling out, rest assured.

Do not ask her to work extra

…‘because I paid you for free.’ She is a human being, not a machine. She is dealing with anxiety, like we all are. Increasing her workload is not a solution. Relax – if the house is not spotless for a little longer, nothing will happen to you.

Do not ask her to drop her other houses

…just because you are worried. Yes, there are risks involved with a part-time worker who goes to multiple houses to work. You can decide not to ask her to come to work, until you feel the situation is better. However it is not your prerogative to coerce her to drop her other employers.

Do not pass on your risks to her

Do not ask her to do the tasks that you feel are ‘too risky’. What makes you think that the measly salary she gets (or any amount of money, for that matter) is worth her risking her life? If it’s too risky for you, rest assured it’s too risky for her.

And here are a few things to do.

Pay her, if you haven’t yet

Yes, we all know times are uncertain and not everyone has or will have a secure income, but whatever your level of uncertainty is, you can be certain hers will be 5x of that. Dig deep, chances are, you will find you can afford it.

Ask her if she needs help

While the lockdown is easing up in many Indian cities, prices have gone up for many commodities and moreover, it’s not always easy to buy from shops that can be crowded. Chances are she does not use online shopping. Offer whatever you can in kind, or add on some groceries for her when you buy yours. If she or her family needs medical attention (for any kind of issues, not necessarily covid related), help her access care, using your networks. These days, it’s often hard for people to know where to go. Offer her a good quality mask if she doesn’t have one.

And finally, talk like you remember she is human, not a machine who does the work. This should not need saying, but hey, this is India, where we believe the poor come from another planet and are incapable of ordinary feelings. Share your worries. Ask her how she managed, what she is planning for the future, how her children are doing, how you can help – in short, let her know that you truly care.

Image credits runran, used via Flickr under a Creative Commons license 2.0, for representational purposes only

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