• The Law Gazette

Social Workers: One of the Unprotected Saviors in the COVID Battle

In India, a few months ago, Prime Minister Modi announced nationwide lock-down due to the outspread of the Coronavirus (COVID – 19) and its continuing even after 4 months. Due to this, corner to corner in the world, every citizen is staying indoors to save themselves from coronavirus which has obstructed the livelihoods of a large percentage of the country’s population and there is a huge impact on everyone's profession.

“We are all in together” has been the motive of many to fight in this pandemic. Among all the professions, social workers are the supporting communities in this situation.


The social service workforce (SSW) responding to COVID-19 includes government and non-government professionals and para-professionals, including community workers, who are carrying out a range of essential pro motive, preventive, and responsive roles.[i] Social work specialists could expect the job of instructor, advocate, coordinator, and referral, connecting care-users to care-givers where the families require monetary, medical facilities, etc.

Key functions at pandemic:

· Ensuring that the most vulnerable are included in planning and response.

· Organizing communities to ensure that essentials such as food and clean water are available.

· Advocating within social services and in policy environment that services adapt, remain open, and pro-active in supporting communities and vulnerable populations.

· Facilitating physical distancing and social solidarity.

· As a profession, advocating for the advancement and strengthening of health and social services as an essential protection against the virus, inequality, and the consequent social and economic challenges.[ii]

By protecting themselves and others from the spread of the virus, the social workers are playing the frontline role in the pandemic.


Every social worker is very much upheld, fittingly prepared, enabled, and secured social assistance workforce which is basic to moderate the harming impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, they are as important as doctors and soldiers. The importance of social workers, during the pandemic, was insisted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the occasion of Buddha Purnima.

"It is the good fortune of all of us that we are witnessing several such people around us who are working round the clock to serve others, to nurse the sick, to feed the hungry, to clean a hospital, to maintain law and order on roads. Within India and outside of it, every such person is worthy of praise, worthy of a salute."[iii]

They are the warriors who help the individuals while encountering breakdown, emergency, and provide routine help administrations. Therefore, the government and the society must know their importance, to give proper safety measures, and to validate such workers.


To ensure the safety of the social workers and to provide security, UNICEF issued recommendations titled “Social Service Workforce Safety and Well-being during the Covid-19 Response”[iv]which is expected to give direction on the most proficient method to help the social assistance workforce, furthermore, enable them to securely serve youngsters, families, and networks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The reality is that the guidelines placed on social workers to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 were not properly satisfied.While our consideration has gone to live in the 'new typical' highly sensitive situation and the conversation over basic consideration beds and ventilators command the news, it is barely noticeable the other reality of the social consideration staff who often do not have satisfactory individual security hardware. There was limited or no access and availability to basic PPE (triple-layered masks, pair of gloves, and hand sanitizers) which endangers the health of the doctors, nurses, and many other frontline workers.[v]

This affects the social workers more as they are not experts in the field of medicine, and therefore, this situation does not encourage other citizens to engage in social work and also reduce the existing social workers’ willingness to work. The situation calls for well equipped social workers, and hence, for that they should be provided the required protection to have an effective performance. "It is a humane approach which is the call of the moment. The essential staffers should be encouraged to discharge their duty without fear of duress and restraint."[vi]

The same can be done by ensuring adequate training and the use of safety gear to the workers. It can also be made stronger by providing a prompt arrangement of videos and phone-based training in the delivery of service, for tracking and documenting data, and to find potential COVID-19 cases. Their willingness can be initiated by providing financial incentives or non-performance based incentives.


Due to the above-mentioned reasons, there was an expectation, that there will be a response from the government to protect the social workers, so they might have strength and encouragement to continue their work. But on April 22, 2020, The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020,[vii] was circulated, as there was an increase in incidents of attacks and harassment of nurses, doctors, and other medical personnel.

"Perceived as carriers of the diseases, there has been stigmatization and ostracization and sometimes worse, acts of unwarranted violence and harassment against our medical professionals. Such a situation tends to hamper the medical community from performing their duties to their optimum best and maintaining their morale, which is a critical need in this hour of the national health crisis."[viii]

This ordinance was brought in to ensure the safety and dignity of our doctors with the end goal that they can keep on contributing during these troublesome occasions and to likewise feature and maintain the respectability and honesty of the medical profession. It solidifies the definition of what constitutes violence i.e., harassment, physical injury, and damage to property, as well as who is covered under the ambit of healthcare personnel. There is also a view that this ordinance will have a positive impact on the morale and reinstate trust so the confidence can be brought back into our healthcare community.

But the ordinance or the century-old law has not brought positive impact or confidence to our social workers because the Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 does not cover the majority of the other social workers who are working hard in the interest of the general public. While the social workers also contribute maximum to humankind during this hard situation, the government has not taken steps to ensure the utmost safety of the social workers.


Many social work specialists have been harassed in society and they are easily prone to infections, therefore, legislation is one such approach to combat the consequences. In India, so far no legislation has been enacted in this regard. Whereas, the Constitution of the United States grants states the right to regulate professional practices, such as social work. As a result, practice protocols and guidelines vary widely across states. However, there is an ordinance to protect doctors, nurses, and many other health care personnel.

Social Work is a professional service that invariably demands Union legislation at the earliest, as Legislation is one of the instruments that can effectively control and direct individual actions into the desirable channel.[ix] Legislation may be of the kind which dispels myths and provides guidelines to help and safeguard front line workers (social workers) and their families, so that provides community support to prevent, manage COVID-19.


[i] Social service workforce safety and wellbeing during the covid-19 response,The United Nations International Children's Fund (UNICEF) (Jul. 20, 2020, 05:30 PM), https://www.unicef.org/media/68501/file/Social-Service-Workforce-Safety-and-Wellbeing-during-COVID19-Response.pdf. [ii] Updated information on IFSW and covid-19,International Federation of Social Workers, (Jul. 20, 2020, 05:30 PM), https://www.ifsw.org/updated-information-on-ifsw-and-the-covid-19-virus/.

[iii] Covid-19 frontline workers worthy of praise, salute, says PM Modi, TOI, May 7, 2020, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/covid-19-frontline-workers-worthy-of-praise-salute-says-pm-modi/articleshow/75593153.cms. [iv] Social service workforce safety and wellbeing during the covid-19 response, The United Nations International Children's Fund (UNICEF) (Jul. 20, 2020, 05:30 PM), https://www.unicef.org/media/68501/file/Social-Service-Workforce-Safety-and-Wellbeing-during-COVID19-Response.pdf. [v] Shortage of personal protective equipment endangering health workers worldwide, World Health Organisation, (Jul. 20, 2020, 05:30 PM), https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/03-03-2020-shortage-of-personal-protective-equipment-endangering-health-workers-worldwide. [vi] Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Amjad Sayed in PIL-CJ-LD-VC-3&11-2020. [vii] The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020.

[viii] Promulgation of an Ordinance to amend the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 in the light of the pandemic situation of COVID-19, Press Information Bureau, (Jul. 20, 2020, 05:30PM), https://pib.gov.in/PressReleseDetail.aspx?PRID=1617327. [ix] The National Council of Professional Social Work Practitioners Bill, 2018.


This blog has been authored by Manusri S.R.N. who is a 3rd Year B.B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) student at School of Law, Sastra University, Thanjavur.