Indispensable to households yet domestic helps are among the hardest hit following the demonetisation drive.
They are stuck with Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes which they got as wages at the beginning of the month.
But they can’t make essential payments such as school fees for children.
Most of them don’t have bank accounts and therefore cannot use ATMs.
Some of those who have bank accounts are being asked to park funds for the time being, thereby exposing them to the taxman.
In Kolkata alone, there are over 50,000 domestic workers and the number is in lakhs throughout the state.
“We are helpless. On one hand households are paying us with banned notes, which we have no way to exchange because we do not have the time to stand on long queues. If we do not accept the notes, householders are asking us to wait. We have mouths to feed at home,” said Tapasi Moira, a domestic worker and senior member of Paschim Banga Griha Paricharika Samity (association for domestic workers in Bengal).
“Many of our members do not have bank accounts. Almost no one has ATM cards. We cannot skip work. But we have school fees and electricity bills to pay. We also have to buy things to eat,” added Moira.
NGOs and the samity have organised a public hearing about their plight in November where representatives of NGOs from Delhi, former judges, intellectuals and activists would be present.
“The domestic workers’ sector is the worst hit. Poor people like workers, domestic workers, daily wage labourers and urban poor are facing a tough time. They are being paid in banned Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 notes by households. They do not have ATM cards and many do not have bank accounts. They cannot stand in the queue for hours and miss work,” said Anibrata Pramanik, Networking and advocacy co-ordinator of Sristy, one of the NGO’s working for domestic helps.
On November 16, a meeting was held where samity representatives from different parts of the state and NGOs participated. However, no concrete solution came up as the situation is worsening by the day.
According a section of domestic workers who did not wish to be named, those who have bank accounts are being coerced by their employers to keep money in banks. They are also being threatened that they will lose their job if they fail to do so.
In Bengal, the samity has been demanding minimum wages, hourly pay, labour welfare board to include domestic helps in social security schemes, recognition as a labour force, identity cards, maternity leave and allowance, among others.