A few years back, a popular music channel released a commercial featuring a ‘desi bai’. Her sari, nose-pin, oily hair rolled into a bun and ear-splitting diction was reflective of the typical, low-paid, unorganised workforce employed essentially to sweep floors and wash dishes.
But her message — ‘itna paisa mein itna hi milega’ — tells a story. With the average Delhiite today travelling more and being exposed more, requirements have changed. Not only expats but an increasing number of locals are also willing to pay extra for maids who understand English, care for hygiene, can cook continental food, handle hi-tech home appliances and are neatly dressed.
The average pay is between Rs. 9,000 - Rs. 18,000 per month depending on skill sets, locations and working hours. Salaries for workers with better skill sets (reading English, western cooking) or a considerable experience range between Rs. 12,000-Rs. 25,000. The employers — mainly highly paid individuals, expats, corporate and diplomats — also take care of food and shelter. Conveyance stipend is a norm if quarters are unavailable.
And it’s benefitting workers like never before. “As a small boy I used to stare at a hotel in Delhi’s diplomatic enclave — Chanakyapuri — and had a dream of being a chef. There were several constraints. I didn’t have the skills. The glitzy hotel overshadowed the makeshift, footpath stall where I sold tea,” said Ajit Das, 26. “I heard of a domestic staff placement and training agency and registered myself. They groomed me and speaking functional English was a major add-on,” he said. He is now a chef at a top hotel in Delhi’s sub-city Dwarka and earns Rs. 1,200 a day.
Shawn Runacres, 50, of Domesteq, a Delhi and Gurgaon-based domestic staff placement and training agency, said, “Till five-six years back, domestic workers were undervalued but things are hanging.”
Shawn, a UC Berkeley graduate, came to India about a decade ago with her husband, who worked with the British High Commission. “Everywhere we looked, people struggling to strike balance between demanding schedules and household chores, were in search of ‘trained and reliable’ workers. Something needed to change.” After running the show for years Shawn has merged Domesteq with B-ABLE, a social enterprise, and acts as a major partner.
B-ABLE has become the first partner of National Skill Development Corporation to train one million youth in next 10 years across several sectors. Domesteq today has 4,000 registered workers and the list of clients includes American Embassy School, British School, World Bank, European Commission, Nokia, Pepsico, Uninor, Vodafone and Walmart.
“Selection of your maid is important because it directly influences children. Most of the time, it’s my maid who is with my children. I need her to know basic English,” said Ritu Dhingra, an education councillor. “Maids should take pride in their appearance as it helps in maintaining a pleasant atmosphere at home,” said Ayesha Dhara, a PR professional.
Since there is a huge supply and demand gap — at the moment, more than 60,000 maids are needed in Delhi and Gurgaon — there are a few players who are trying to turn this largely unorganised home staff industry into a professional workforce. “One major reason is the living space, which has reduced from ‘kothis’ to apartments. Families want their domestic help to fit into their lifestyle,” said Gauri Singh, founder of The Maids Company in DLF City phase-4.
The Maids Company trains maids for free not only in house-keeping, but also in etiquette. The company places these maids for part-time jobs and provides a pick-up and drop facility to them. “The minimal charge is transferred to the clients,” explained Singh. Considering the pace at which the demand for professional maids is increasing, market players say that this demand might soon change into a status symbol.
Also with increase in nuclear families, there is a need for someone who can be trusted. “Childcare is the central point for families to turn towards professional domestic help,” said Surekha Prasad, office manager, NCR region for getdomestichelp.com. The company, based out of Hyderabad, opened a swanky office in Mahipalpur, Delhi in 2012 and runs three services — household, corporate and expatriates — and provides cooks, nannies, drivers, people for elderly care, besides customised requirements.
“We have a four-step hiring process: select category, select preferences, register and pay, interview and hire assisted by client relations managers. We put a lot of emphasis on verifications, past employment, criminal records, if any, and complete health check. We are absolutely labour law compliant,” said a representative of the firm.
Shawn said, “Our mobilisation teams work in villages and slums. Trainers provide soft-skills, personal hygiene, etiquette, communication skills and personal security to ensure they are “work-ready. We test their aptitude and document their specific skill sets.
For experienced domestic workers we provide courses designed to help increase their skills such as housekeeping, childcare, cooking, cleaning, health & hygiene, etiquette, continental cooking, kitchen hygiene and safe food storage, events training, besides butler and party skills," she said.
Harish K Insa, 32, who has just opened a small placement agency ‘Domestic Help in India’ in Gurgaon and caters to families who want quality services but cannot pay much also has felt the need to change. Depending on the people he speaks to, he switches between Hindi and English. “I will soon start training maids to drive so that they can pick and drop children.”
“We charge the employer one month’s salary. People can see maids’ profiles on our website. But there’s greater awareness now. People take their maids to malls during shopping. They should be presentable. They should look professional,” he said.