Online edition of India's National Newspaper
Thursday, July 26, 2001

Front Page | National | Southern States | Other States | International | Opinion | Business | Sport | Science & Tech | Entertainment | Miscellaneous | Features | Classifieds | Employment | Index | Home

Features | Previous | Next

'Maid' to order?

MR. GOVINDAN AND his wife run a software business. They need someone who can cook food and keep the house in order. They approach one of the several agencies in the city which arrange maids for domestic help. After waiting a while they interview a maid who joins the household.

"Think of the scenario in terms of interfaces," says Mr. Govindan. "The level of supervision being low, the maid quickly turns the kitchen into a personal fiefdom. Her ladle is the law. Left alone with only the TV for entertainment, she wants to talk. So she chats with the driver, watchman, presswala and the gardener. The householder pays for the eats and the gossip.

"And what if they fake illnesses and take time off regularly? When they decide to leave, who pays the fare? How do we control their enormous appetites and the frequent need to visit their family?"

But for every disgruntled employer there is one who has found an excellent employee through the agency. Kamala and Usha Chandrasekhar have highly efficient maids and Shanti Ganesh has trained a young boy in housework.

It is boom time for Maids in Chennai. At least six new ones have opened their doors for commerce in the last few years.

Advertisements in a Tamil daily promise work for needy women. The maids arrive; they are fingerprinted and photographed. Their ration card is xeroxed and their addresses taken. They are registered after verification of the referrals. They pay the agency an annual retainer though some agencies maintain that they do not charge this fee.

A new recruit hangs around the agency while she is watched (or tested) for perseverance. The agents claim that the maids are thoroughly counselled every time they set out for a job. But there is no training at all for any of the work. It is essentially on-the-job training and the smart ones learn to operate the kitchen gadgets, cook, and even pick up English or other languages.

To woo the cutomers the agency goes to the English press, especially the area newspapers. But a well-served customer provides the best ad. Apart from the registration fee the client coughs up a month's salary paid to the maid as deposit. Some agencies request an annual payment.

The maid can be asked to do a variety of jobs. Her compensation is based on details of the boss's family, the age of the children, the size of the house and the lifestyle of the members. Printed do's and don'ts are given to prospective clients. If you can furnish a genuine reason for chucking out the help, the agency will find a replacement but only half a dozen times or for 3-6 months. Beyond that, well... you are put on a permanent waiting list. In all the agencies I visited I found maids waiting. But the proprietors assert that the demand for help is far in excess of the supply ? "For every 10 employers seeking domestic help, there are only two maids who can be trusted to do the job," says Mr. Babu of Sahaya Home Care Services. Mr. Raghupati of Housemaid Services, Saidapet, feels the demand is double the supply.

Mr. Raghupati is perhaps the best-known in this business. Since 1995 he claims to have rehabilitated 3,000 needy women. He runs an orphanage, a hostel, and a school, which are of great use to maids with young children.

Ms. Amudha of Spick and Span Domestic Services is plannning an orphanage for destitute women. Her six-year-old agency supplies maids to upper middle class homes. She complains of unscrupulous operators who have given the business a bad name.

Surely it is a profitable venture in spite of the slew of problems? "It is," admits Latha of Valluvar Nagar Agency echoing Mr. Babu.

What is the hired hand's lot? Kausalya who is between jobs bursts out, "The employers take advantage of our impoverishment. I was engaged as an ayah but was asked to do the cooking as well."

Parvathi has another story. "I was given only the previous day's food from the fridge to eat. My employer kept late hours and I hardly got any sleep."

Meenakshi cries, "They said they were a small family but 10 people sat down for meals every day."

While the employers crib about the lack of cleanliness and etiquette of the raw hands sent to them, the servants want fixed hours of work and some respect.

Skeletons rattle in all the three cupboards. The agencies trade accusations of dubious moral standards and shady business procedures. Others are said to shake off their accountability once a maid is sent. They find it difficult to trace the antecedents of the maids and face tough customers.

Do these allegations arise from competition or is there truth in them? If so, is there a government mechanism to check and control the operations of the agencies and implement the labour laws?

The demand for domestic services is undoubtedly on the upswing with more couples going out to work and willing to spend on hired help. But the business could do with better organisation.

The agent at Mylapore sums up, "If you consider what you pay as charity and treat your maid with kindness she is sure to do her work well. The maid on her part should be grateful for what she gets. The agency should consider this as a business with an in- built opportunity for social service. When that happens it will work to the benefit of all the parties."


Send this article to Friends by E-Mail

Section  : Features
Previous : Hello! It's out of reach
Next     : For the homemaker

Front Page | National | Southern States | Other States | International | Opinion | Business | Sport | Science & Tech | Entertainment | Miscellaneous | Features | Classifieds | Employment | Index | Home

Copyrights © 2001 The Hindu

Republication or redissemination of the contents of this screen are expressly prohibited without the written consent of The Hindu