Domestic, daily-wage workers struggle to earn a living amid lockdown

Updated March 27, 2020

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Municipal workers wash the Pims premises with chlorinated water as part of a disinfection campaign against the spread of Covid-19 on Thursday. — Photo by Mohammad Asim
Municipal workers wash the Pims premises with chlorinated water as part of a disinfection campaign against the spread of Covid-19 on Thursday. — Photo by Mohammad Asim

RAWALPINDI: The lockdown ordered by the provincial government in response to the spread of the novel coronavirus has caused inconvenience to many residents trying to carry on with day-to-day affairs, but the worst affected are domestic workers and daily-wagers who have lost their source of income.

Unlike last Thursday, when the city was thrumming with activity and labourers found work in markets and on construction sites, this week many people could be seen sitting in main squares waiting for any work that may come their way with markets and construction sites closed.

Although grocery stores, pharmacies and petrol stations are open, vehicle workshops, tyre shops and plumbers’ shops stayed closed. The government has allowed the grain market to open to maintain the supply chain of edibles in the city, so some labourers were able to find work loading and unloading goods from vehicles.

Public transport also remained off the roads, and there were fewer taxis seen as well. Some private vehicles were observed, but largely people chose to stay indoors.

“I have a family of eight and I work as a labourer, but for the last three days there has not been any work in the market. I come daily in search of work but find nothing and rely on charity food,” Mohammad Khan, a labourer in Raja Bazaar, said.

He said there was no work other than at the grain market, and most shopkeepers have their own labour. He said he did not know how many days he could depend on charity.

Musarat Bibi, a domestic worker in the Defence Housing Authority, said she was working in three houses, but after the spread of the coronavirus and the lockdown in the city, she had to stay home.

“Although the owner of the house assured that I will be paid my full salary for this month, it is not sure yet whether they will continue the work next month,” she said, adding that her husband was now jobless after the shopping mall he worked in closed.

People also found it difficult to get to the hospital because of the lack of private public transport.

Ishtiaq Hussain, who lives in Jhanda Chichi, told Dawn: “My sister suffers from asthma and needs immediate medical help in case of an emergency. Yesterday, she suffered an asthma attack but there was no taxi or rickshaw to take her.”

Mr Hussain said he borrowed a motorcycle to take his sister to the hospital, where the concerned doctor was not available. He added that the on-duty doctor in the emergency ward gave them some tips for the future.

Arya Mohallah resident Farhan Ahmed said his son was suffering from fever and he had to take him to a private hospital nearby, where he had to pay Rs1,000.

The administrations of the Deputy Headquarters Hospital, Holy Family Hospital and Benazir Bhutto Hospital (BBH) said fewer patients visited than usual.

A doctor at the BBH emergency department also said there was a reduced influx of patients, possibly because of restricted movement.

Many people were also forced to carry on without being able to access necessary repair work.

Mohammad Umer, from Chaklala Scheme III, said his motorcycle engine began to suddenly leak oil but he could not find an open workshop so he had to leave the motorcycle parked at home.

He said all the markets were closed and there were no engine repair shops open, adding that he would have to wait a week or two for shops to open to get his vehicle repaired.

Sajid Mehmood, who lives in Jhanda Chichi, also had to leave his motorcycle at home because there were no shops open to repair the tyre tube of his vehicle.

“I went to Murree Road but did not find any open shops,” he said.

Published in Dawn, March 27th, 2020