When the COVID-19 crisis struck and India was locked down in March 2020, nearly 5 million Delhi residents who work in the informal economy faced near-total loss of work, depletion of savings and debilitating hunger.
Groundbreaking research conducted by WIEGO (Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing) shines a light on what these essential workers experienced: a near total loss of work and income almost overnight, followed by a painfully slow recovery.
The WIEGO study, which focussed on 12 cities around the world, found that by June there was some recovery, but nowhere near pre-crisis levels.
Domestic workers, who used to work on average six-day weeks before lockdown were able to only work between 2-3 days, while street vendors and waste pickers were only finding work 3-4 days a week. Home-based workers were hardest hit, with most not finding even a day's work.
Now, informal workers, activists and informal economy experts from Delhi are calling for an inclusive recovery from COVID-19.
In a webinar organised by WIEGO Focal City Delhi, the panel reflected on how workers survived COVID-19, considered the continuing impact on their lives, and the difficult road back to work.
Even after the easing of lockdown and gradual reopening of the economy, recovery for informal workers has been slow and difficult. Continuing low earnings, increased care burden and little or no access to long-term support means that the impact of the pandemic on informal workers persists and has long-term implications.
How to recover?
To aid recovery, many informal workers' organizations and allies have articulated a policy roadmap for recovery, including the following demands:
Enable livelihood opportunities through support to restart livelihoods for the different categories of workers – open markets and vending zones, sorting spaces for waste pickers and community work-stations, and provide support to workers' organizations to ensure these workspaces are safe and secure; and providing workers with credit access.Minimise health risks by ensuring access to water and sanitation facilities at both homes and informal worksites, and ensure provision of personal protective equipment and sanitisers to all workers. Recognise and regularise informal workers by bringing all under the ambit of national labour laws and regulations which mandate the right to decent work and pay. Extend and facilitate access to social security, especially child care and health insurance, for all informal workers. Recognize migrant workers and facilitate their access to government relief programmes and schemes. Recognize and support informal livelihoods in the city by promoting labour-intensive growth and ensuring access to safe and secure workspaces, including in public space, with basic services.