In India, the client companies offer payment as per the Minimum Wages Act (MWA) which stipulates a salary that does not fetch two square meals a day. Interestingly, the minimum wages differ from State to State, from city to city and even from profession to profession! The average minimum wages, in short, is between र3000 and र5000.
“How can anyone expect to run a family with just र3,500 or र4000 salary per month?” asks Balram J Menon, Director, Adroit Facilities Management Services Pvt Ltd.
“Many of the janitors, who commute to their place of work from far away homes, leaving their children behind, spend almost 12 to 14 hours of the day out of their house.”
The irony of minimum wages is that a janitor, who falls in the unskilled category of the MWA will draw different salaries in different places for the doing the same kind of job. Under the Maharashtra MWA in an Automobile industry, an unskilled worker will draw three different salaries in three different zones – र3386, र3286 and र3186. The disparity in minimum wages is wider when it comes to workers in the construction of roads/building industry (unskilled), where they receive salary between र5744 and र6144 in different zones!
While one may wonder that a र6144 should be a good salary for an unskilled worker, but at the same time, it is also important to know the actual amount the worker takes home. Out of र6144, basic salary is only र.4750. The basic salary in other sectors is much lower, like Hotels & Restaurants is र3050 or drugs and pharmaceuticals is र3120 and in the case of sweepers it is र3200.
“Anything below 6000 is non-acceptable,” asserts Balram. “We go as far as Machilipattanam, a Tsunami affected area down south, to get our employees. We rehabilitate them, provide a 15-day training, groom them and relocate them in Chennai. This is the only industry which strives to give dignity to the workers. We, in the cleaning industry, are not doing just business, we are elevating people from remote areas and giving them a hierarchy to grow. But going by the MWA, a client would still want to pay an unskilled worker the same salary, even though he has a work experience of say five years. This practice or attitude of disregarding an unskilled worker’s capability and paying him at par with a fresh entrant does not do justice to this profession nor this industry. Who will want to take up this job?
“If I can say proudly that some of the women janitors are working with us for the last 15 years, it is mainly because they are confident that they will get at least their salary on time. This is a commitment from our end. I tell the clients that cash flow is like blood – you, to me and the worker. If there is no blood how can one work?”
The dearth of unskilled, skilled or trained manpower to take up the janitorial profession has driven the cleaning industry to tap the rural resources. Is there a choice?
Given that there are no training institutes or educational courses besides an unattractive pay-scale and working ethics, the urban set-up has very few takers for this profession. A day may come when janitors will walk out and refuse doing the cleaning job.
“Today, getting labour at such costs is becoming a challenge. No one wants to take up this job because it does not pay well or on time,” says Balram. Each profession has its demands, dos and don’ts. Similarly, cleaning is a profession which most clients either do not understand or do not want to understand. “Every client wants trained manpower to do the cleaning. Where do we get the manpower? This is the only industry where people from the lowest strata of the society get livelihood. We employ people from far off places; some are even in the poverty line. We give them basic knowledge, train them in the cleaning science and groom them for the corporate world and above all, save them from becoming an anti-social element. In fact, the cleaning sector is one of the largest manpower employers. The dearth of manpower due to improper wage system is something that needs to be looked at seriously,” adds Balram.
Who should be blamed for this situation? The client for not giving them enough to run their lives? The Government for designing a wage structure that cannot meet the basic needs of a worker? All said, just imagine one day in office when none of the cleaning staff turn up at work!
Displeased with the present system of client companies deciding not just on what a worker should be paid but also the number of workers, the equipment, tools and cleaning chemicals, Balram asks, “Why are the client companies deciding our work. It is our job to decide how many workers are required to get the job done. It is the building service contractor’s prerogative.” Sadly, that is not the case. The scene at present is not conducive to performance. “It is as good as slavery. The client will determine the kind of people to be taken, the kind of chemicals they want us to use and they will also complain about the service. A timely and quality delivery of the chemicals and consumables will go a long way in maintaining the premises to the required level of environmental cleanliness. A delay from the client’s end to provide the chemical on time is going to affect my job,” laments Balram.
Walk into a BPO or IT company and visit the toilet. There are people who don’t even know how to use a toilet and “they are the ones who are determining how we will have to keep the toilet clean. Ultimately, a few years down the line, it is their premise that is going to look old and unclean.” Adds Subhash Kshatri, Director, Stealth-View Facility Services India, “When awarding a contract, client sees the commercial side and doesn’t always evaluate or hear out what initiatives a housekeeping company will add to the job schedule to enhance the hygiene levels and maintain the beauty of the property, by way of application of latest technology – Machines, chemicals and allied products. But what they have in mind is an amount which is based on budgetary analysis or past baggage. Housekeeping companies in such cases would either resort to conventional old methods or ways of cleaning or else would let go the contract (which often is not the case). What happens is, we (client and the service provider) both don’t move ahead with the rest of the world and cocoon ourselves.”
Subhash lists some of the common methods of cutting costs:
- Non compliance of minimum wages – the labour force here suffers and doesn’t have a social security, sound future, no medical support, etc.
- Use of harmful chemicals – Acids & phenyls are used which not only harm the environment we work & live in, but also is harmful to human.
- Cross contamination – non use of colour code approachin cleaning.
- Untrained Manpower
- Inappropriate machines application