Covid’s dark clouds

S Murlidharan | Updated on September 09, 2020

House helps: The first casualty   -  The Hindu

And the quirky silver linings on the jobs front

Covid-19 has taken a variety of tolls. One such is the sudden persona non grata status of maidservants, who till recently were lynchpins in most homes, especially those with working women. Even after Unlock 4.0, maidservants continue to be in the doghouse for the fear of them contaminating residents. In the event, the widespread reports of their lack of livelihood is heart-wrenching. The government must provide them alternative employment opportunities at Anganvadies, etc.

What is maidservants’ loss, however, is white goods industry’s gain. This is an instance of compensatory employment, as it were. There are reports of households increasingly lapping up white goods particularly washing machines (despite their inability to clean collar dirt), dishwashers and vacuum cleaners. It is equally true though that in many households, frugal men folk who have hung up their boots are cheerfully performing domestic chores. Be that as it may, the point is net-net, the number of persons displaced might well be adding to the payroll of the white goods industry. Every dark cloud has a silver lining.

Restaurants too have been in disfavour. While restaurants may have to permanently fold up many of the tables, rendering a large number of waiters unemployed in that role, their services can be used as packers at the takeaway counters and as delivery boys. Corona did initially encourage self-cooking but the connoisseurs in course of time started pining for the dishes of their favourite restaurants so much so that aggregators such as Zomato and Swiggy are back in business.

Despite haircutting saloons being allowed to reopen, the general public is chary of them. Some men have got accustomed to their wives trimming their hair periodically. So much so do-it-yourself is catching on much to the consternation of barbers. But then there are apps to summon barbers to one’s home that do a clean job for a price. Admittedly though not all can afford their services as disposable plastic towels and other precautions provide a perfect garb for fleecing.

Crowded markets and shops too are in disfavour with those who have become aware of the lurking virus. Aggregators such as Amazon and Flipkart are lapping up the opportunity. Many traders are seeing wisdom in closing their bricks and mortar shops and selling through e-commerce platforms. If you can’t beat them, join them!

While the above areas are in the realm of essential goods and services and hence compensatory employment opportunities inevitably and invariably spring up, the government has to worry about contraction of job opportunities at the discretionary spend avenues. Newspapers, for example, are suffering in the absence of advertisement support and dwindling circulation.

Atmanirbar Bharat initiative can address the problem of non-compensatory unemployment, which harks back to pre-lockdown days, to a great extent. The government’s resolve to manufacturer bulk of arms and ammunitions is welcome but it has to walk the talk. Semiconductor production too can stem the huge outgo of foreign exchange. The government must step up the gas on infrastructure like roads if necessary by considerably enhanced borrowings. Giving employment should be its first priority.

The writer is a Chennai-based chartered accountant

Published on September 09, 2020

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