Stretching the daily wage during the pandemic to meet family demands

COVID-19 response

Ye Mon
12 June 2020

Across the world, workers on daily wages are suffering greatly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Particularly in developing countries with weak economies such as Myanmar daily wagers have few real choices. They are being forced to prioritize their families and livelihoods over the risks of catching the virus, regardless of their understandable fears and concerns. 

Ma Lei Lei, 38, her husband and two children aged ten and seven live in Hlaing Thar Yar Township in Yangon with Ma Lei Lei’s mother, on her land. While they are fortunate to have a home in the compound, both parents have to work to ensure there is food for the family. 

When the first COVID-19 cases was reported in Myanmar, Ma Lei Lei was forced to give up her job as a housemaid, losing her daily earnings of 15,000 Myanmar kyats (approx. US$ 12). This has put the family in an extremely precarious position.

Ma Lei Lei’s husband works at a ceramic tile store where he earns 8,000 Myanmar kyats (approx. US$6) a day. The family now has to find ways to survive on this small single income.  Ma Lei Lei is also not sure how long her husband can keep this job as there is no formal contract, and jobs are not properly secured, and there is no social security for the family.

“The food we would normally eat for one day, I’m having to stretch over two days. It’s fish and beans these days, with meat very occasionally,” explains Ma Lei Lei. “We have to take austerity measures. I think the children understand.” 

In these difficult days, the family is living carefully, ?? out their few resources. Ma Lei Lei is hopeful that they might be eligible to receive the basic food donations, which include rice and oil, being distributed by the Government and other organizations, but she hasn’t so far.

While the pandemic has no clear end in sight, Ma Lei Lei and her husband, like many parents, are worrying about the health and education of their children.

“I’m scared something will happen to my girls, that they will catch the virus, so I persuade them to play inside the house,” says Ma Lei Lei.

The Government of Myanmar has not yet announced when schools will re-open despite it being enrolment time. This is contributing to Ma Lei Lei’s increasing anxiety. The family was already struggling to keep the children in schools before the pandemic with income from both her and her husband, so it is even more worrying now with smaller income. However, Ma Lei Lei is still praying for the reopening of schools for the best interest of her children’s education. The only way to support them is for her husband and herself to try to increase their income, which remains as a great challenge.

A Hindu, Ma Lei Lei has been praying at home, since the temple has been off limits during the lockdown. In the meantime, she has also been teaching the local children about Hinduism.

When Ma Lei Lei goes to the market, she leaves her daughters with their grandmother and is not worried, as she believes her mother and her siblings have good knowledge about the coronavirus and can protect them.

“My siblings and I take food to our mother who doesn’t go out at all. We don’t let her. That’s why I can leave my children with her, with peace of mind,” declares Ma Lei Lei.

 “Many of the affordable clinics are still closed, and the hospitals we can think of going are not treating non-urgent cases. Trying our best to stay healthy seems to be the best practice for us now,” says the concerned mother.