Helper4U conducted a survey in Chandivali area with the Domestic Helpers (maids, cooks, Babysitters) . To understand their work satisfaction as well as work-related challenges. This was an ideal area for a survey, given the fact that there is demand as well as a supply of domestic workers here. If we look at the demography, there are high rises in Raheja Vihar, Hiranandani, Nahar Shakti, L&T, as well as slums in Tunga Gaon, Sangharsh Nagar, Marol Pipeline, Vikhroli Park Site, IIT, Jama Masjid to name a few. The area is home to many families with multiple working members in the house, as well as upwardly mobile families, leading to great demand for Domestic Helpers. We set out to find if this translated into more negotiating power for the Helpers.

We talked to approximately 70 women, who worked either as a maid, cook, babysitter, or took care of multiple job roles. All of them were live-outs, which means they returned home at the end of their work. The questions we asked them were related to their work hours, work profile, salary, treatment at work and challenges they face at their work. We also asked them what changes would they like in their “professional lives” to have a better work-life balance.

The most interesting fact which came to our notice was regarding the preferred work. The most preferred work was that of a cook. The reasons were that it is physically less taxing, and, income is more than that of a maid. While one hour’s work gets a maid approx. Rs. 800-1000 per month, the same time spent on cooking a meal would fetch about Rs. 3000 – 3,500.

Most women working as maids complained of body pains due to the bending involved in mopping and sweeping. Only 5% of the surveyed population was using modern mops and brooms which did not require them to squat or bend. Babysitting and cleaning were equally preferred.

The reason largely is that it involves managing children without the right to scold them. We heard things like: “If the child does not eat, we are blamed, if the child does not complete homework or watches TV most of the time we are blamed. But, if we are strict with the child even then we are scolded.”Parents never tell the child that they have to listen to us. They themselves also don’t set rules for them. So, it is difficult to manage kids. Payment is nearly the same unless it comes to managing infants”

Among the challenges faced by these women, salary being less topped the chart with 43% not happy with the money they earned. At about Rs. 800-1,000 per hour of work for a month, the money translates into just Rs. 27-34 per hour of work. This is far less than all minimum wages mandated by the government.

Most women felt that in return for the physical labour they went through, as well as the convenience they provided to their employers they were not being compensated enough. This was especially true because they get at the most 2 days off. Any more leaves, including for their festivals, lead to the deduction in salary.  “We clean their homes on festivals, while our own homes stay dirty. If we take the day off on Diwali, we do not get our yearly bonus.”

The Helpers also felt that since unlike all other professions, including that of a driver or housekeeper. They do not get weekly days off, they should get more money. Interestingly not getting days off, and long work hours were the next big problems, getting 29% responses each. The only way for them to get better salary is when they get more job offers, which is again a challenge due to their limited networks.

About 15% of the respondents also felt that they did not get enough respect at their workplace, though for many it was a non-issue. Most of those who felt they did not get enough respect were maids. Most maids said it did not matter because “Who will give respect to someone cleaning their homes and toilet and utensils?” In short, they did not expect respect when working as a maid. This also meant, being a domestic helper is not aspirational at all and none of the maids wanted their daughters to be in the same profession.

Most Helpers spent approx. 7-8 hours at work, in return earning Rs. 6,000-8,000, from one or multiple households. Working for less than 5 hours did not make monetary sense . Some even had to take an auto to travel to work. So, unless they worked for about 5-6 hours, it was of no use to step out of their homes. Most preferred working in the same homes, doing multiple tasks . But that was not always possible, so they look for work in multiple homes. But, even in this area with many high rises, the Helpers often have to travel about a kilometre during the day while moving from one house to the other. Some worked in as many as 5 homes while spending about 12 hours at work.

Only 29% of the Helpers made more than 15,000, and largely because they worked nearly 12 hours a day . About 50% of them worked in multiple homes. These were also largely the ones who were treated most respectfully, paid more, given leaves more leniently and given modern mops and brooms for their work. Point to note is that they mainly worked in homes for professional couples. Seems working women are more likely to treat their domestic help as “employees”.

For most of these women, there was nearly no time for their family responsibilities or leisure. Most leaves are taken when there is someone sick in the house, or there is a ceremony. They can’t afford to take a leave for pleasure or “just resting”. Most women felt that they were not getting enough time to take care of their own kids  because of  tiring hours spent at work.

Workplace being far from home was an issue with only about 14% of the workers. But on deeper probing, we found that this was only because they look for work only near their homes. Most women would rather compromise on salary, or work hours, rather than travel far. They make do with whatever they get.

All Helpers were also aware that their work life would end at the age of 50 on an average . Then they would be dependent on their husband or children since there are no savings at all from their monthly earning. Due to this they strongly felt there should be some kind of pension scheme for them.

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