Two years back, Sanjay Chaurasia, a 32-year-old plumber, was finding it difficult to make ends meet. He could often be seen at Labour Chowk, Sikandarpur, waiting to get work. There were days when he found work, on others, he would leave after waiting for hours with no money for his daily expenses.
One-and-a-half years back, he signed up with an online home services provider, which did a background check on him, gave him training in behavioural skills, and a phone with an app that could be used to find work.
“Earlier, it was hard to make ₹7,000 per month, now I make about ₹55,000,” says Chaurasia. “There is hardly any impact of demonetisation on me as my customers are tech-savvy, and my company transfers my earnings into my bank account,” he says.
Chaurasia has bought land and will soon construct a house in his village. But the biggest change, he says, is in the way people treat him.
“Earlier, I was treated like a menial labourer, and now that I work for a company, have a uniform, wear an I-card, people treat me with respect.”
As he talks, he gets a beep on his mobile — it is the fourth assignment of the day he has received on the app of the company he works for. He has to go and change a leaking tap in Gurgaon sector 12.
Chaurasia is not the only one: The life of the country’s blue-collar workers — plumbers, carpenters, electricians — is undergoing a slow transformation, thanks to the growing number of home services start-ups such as EasyFix, Housejoy, Urban Clap, among others.
Demonetisation has not affected the income of these blue-collar workers as their customers are young tech-savvy professionals and make payments through credit cards and other online options. “The only difference is that earlier 80% people paid in cash, now they pay the company through credit cards. And the company transfers the money to our bank accounts,” says Umesh, a carpenter who makes about ₹60,000 per month.
A few months back, he got a contract worth ₹2.5 lakh through the online platform he works for. “I also engaged a fellow carpenter and made about ₹1 lakh in a month. I recently built a house in my village in Bihar and am now planning to buy a car,” says Umesh, who once worked as a casual labourer. “This device has empowered me,” he says pointing at his smart phone.
These online home service providers are seeking to organise a largely fragmented market and channelise demand, ensuring steady work and better earnings for blue-collar workers.
Binod Sharma, 31, used to worked for a contractor as a carpenter and made about ₹12,000 per month, but now he makes about ₹55,000 a month thanks to the fact that he now has more work and gets better pay for it.
“There are months when I earn about ₹1 lakh,” says Sharma. The money, he says, has changed his life. He has built a house in his hometown, bought a bike, married off his sister last year, and brought his son and younger brother from his village in Bihar to Gurgaon for better education.
Driving the change in the fortunes of blue-collar workers is the mobile phone revolution, which has allowed start-ups to connect with many bottom-of-the-pyramid jobseekers and reduce the demand-supply gap in the home service market.
“Most of them are extremely good at their work but lack behavioural skills and that is the area we focus on and the result is great. Society has been very judgmental about them and there has been a lack of empathy towards them. We have not only been able to get them regular work but the respect they deserve,” says Shaifali Holani, founder of EasyFix. “Upgrading their skills is essential, so we also organise refresher courses for them from time to time.”
Companies are roping in experts to train the workers.
Saran Chatterji, CEO, Housejoy, says “We tie up with brand experts to provide training to our home service providers. So far, plumbers and electricians have been most sought after, but the demand for carpenters is growing the fastest these days,” he says. “We try for hyper local matches that ensure that these workers spend less time commuting and are able to get more assignments. But the biggest challenge before us is to scale up by having as many service providers as possible on board,” Chatterji says.
Many like Suchita Datta, executive director, India Staffing Federation, an industry body that works in the area of contractual employment, says that it is necessary to bring more and more unorganised workforce into the organised sector for their socio-economic uplift. She says online job portals and app-based service providers for blue-collar workers have mobilised jobs and provided more opportunities to blue-collar workers. “But the biggest challenge is to ensure that these workers get employment security, skill recognition, and social security. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of companies that are not willing to comply with the law in this regard,” says Datta.
K Lakshma Reddy, chairman, Dattopant Thengadi National Board for Workers Education and Development, an autonomous body under the Union Ministry of Labour, says that it is necessary to make workers aware of their social and economic environment, their rights and responsibilities.”
“We are educating them about it apart from ensuring that they continuously acquire and upgrade knowledge and skills to find and hold a job. Besides, it is necessary to spread computer literacy among workers so that they could make use of the opportunities provided by digital platforms,” says Reddy.
But there are many blue-collar workers such as Praveen Kumar, 36, a multi-skilled technician, who say that while these app-based service providers have changed their lives by raising their incomes, they could do more. “The fact is these companies also owe their existence to us, so I shall be happier if they could ensure some benefits such as provident fund and health insurance for us. After all, we wear their uniform, carry their I-card and serve as their free marketers,” says Kumar.