Interestingly even though some corporates agree that wages are low, they do not think there is a manpower crunch. “If one guy goes, there are 10 others waiting outside to get the job. There are so many people coming from Jharkhand and other States. At many places, service providers get the workers from just outside the gate of the premises. In many cases they don’t even do a health check up. They just fill up the papers and employ them as janitors. No training is given, even though they claim having given basic training. Manpower is available in abundance for the simple reason that it is unskilled. Where’s the manpower crunch?
However, Ralph Sunil, reiterates that the frequent switching of jobs and lack of skilled manpower should squarely be blamed on the minimum wage structure. “If people get paid minimum wages, they will constantly seek better clients. It is only a small but attractive amount that makes the decision for the skilled worker. If skill sets and experience are not rewarded, there will always be a crunch situation.”
While, majority of the clients agree that delayed payments on the part of the client take a toll on the service providers, many consider the ‘payment punishment’ as the best weapon to extract quality work from the service provider. Service providers are businessmen and like in all businesses they should have credit worthiness and the strength to manage finances and payments to staff on their own for a short term say, like three months.
Yes, payments are delayed at times, says Richa. “It is mostly because it could be the only way out to get the service provider on the right track, especially when they are not meeting the standards or the requirements of the client company. In fact, if payments are delayed, more than the service provider, it directly affects the client company. The impact of people working on empty stomachs or sub-standard quality of service is much more. Delayed payment is the last option before the client company to extract quality work.”
This is business and all businesses have to juggle with finance and prioritise payments. “Clients have many priorities and market conditions decide the same. If the clients do not give priority to their requirements, all those associated with them will suffer. Hence, at times there will be deferred payments or some non adherence to timely payments. In such a scenario, the service provider should be prepared to manage things for a short term. He should also maintain a healthy and positive communication with the client at all times. On the other hand, the client should be sensitive to people related with payments and prioritise manpower payments to have a healthy and happy workforce.
Clients stress that service providers are not forced to work on reduced margins. They are of the opinion that the margins are usually decided on their levels of skill and expertise.
If service providers are not specialised and highly professional, they cannot demand high margins as per the present trend in India. With so many players in the field coupled with high levels of competitive business and a lot of options with regard to types of manpower available with the client , service providers may have to settle for low margins
Clients who are customer and employee focused, blue chip companies, large conglomerates, or MNCs are willing to pay a high margin – but again to service providers who are able to deliver high standards of performance. This can be seen in the bigger corporate managed malls, giant corporate houses or top airports.
Coming strongly on the accusation of service providers being forced to work on reduced margins, one of the client companies says, “If reduced margin is such a big issue with service providers, they would not be in this business. Who will think of business if it is not making profits? Or, who will remain in such a business which does not offer them good money? It is not the client company that is to be blamed but it is the service providers who are eating up on the workers’ salary. How many housekeeping companies adhere to the PF and EFS norms? How many of them actually deposit the money in the workers’ PF accounts? For that matter, they cut corners in so many other ways. Their margins are much higher in terms of start up ventures.”
Another opinion shared by a client is the mindset created by market forces. With service providers having created such a scenario that the client is always under the impression that the service provider is quoting much higher. “It is always in the mind of the client that the service provider would have taken the big profit margin while making his quote and insists that the service provider reduce rates. But in any case, the service provider is never at loss.”
Service providers are engaged/deployed by the client for their expertise. It is therefore necessary that the client too is educated on this front to be able to extract the best from the service providers.
“At Essar, my team – the client team is qualified. They know the cleaning agents and chemicals to be used. I recommend that every client company should have qualified and experienced employee/s on its side with multi-tasking abilities to supervise and oversee the service provider. Also, since commercials are involved and service providers take on many sites simultaneously – if there is no demand for quality and systematic working, they tend to slack. Ultimately, the owner of the house is the client and the pride or the backlash will go to him,” says Ralph Sunil.
Joy at Work
Both the service provider and the client should provide for good working conditions for the staff. Simple facilities like clean staff washrooms, eating places, tea/coffee vending machines, good working equipment, clean and smart uniforms, scheduled time of working, breaks, off days and periodical leave are essential to retain workers and ensure they are happy enough to deliver good results.
Over and above regular training classes, some outbound activities or a simple team lunch, out-of-office meets, once-in-a-while appreciation and recognitions in public will make the workers feel like they are part of the set up. Senior level interactions between the service provider and the client will also go a long way. Most of the times, this set of workforce is at the receiving end from all concerned, so if joy at work is practiced, it will result in a happy, smiling, energetic and effective workforce. “We practice this at Essar in managing huge campuses and facilities and we are a happy family put together.”
Both the clients and the service providers agree that most of the chemical companies do not mention the contents on the packaging. Any service provider or a chemical vendor selling a product claiming it to be eco-friendly or green chemical, without even revealing the contents, is tantamount to “cheating”.
“How will even we know what chemical is being used and whether it is the right chemical? Even the local popular brands available off the stands do not have specifications on the packaging! This is the most unscientific approach. It is more a marketing strategy or sales gimmick in the name of green. Just how and why would anyone call anything related to cleaning a science?” asks a client.”
Interestingly, many cleaning chemicals are sold as multi-purpose cleaners and there is no clear distinction between two chemicals. Most of the chemicals sold in India are procured from abroad and have actually not been made for Indian conditions.
Resultantly, many middle-level service providers use a product as a marketing tool. “We use only Diversey chemicals or Hindustan Lever products” is a popular statement with such service providers. Without any knowledge of what the product is all about and without explaining to the client what the product can do, a claim for scientific approach is baseless.
“It is this lack of expertise and knowledge of which chemicals to use for specific area cleaning which is the biggest drawback among facility managers,” laments another client.
Time to come closer
Summing up, Clean India Journal agrees with both the client and the service provider that the industry is in need of skilled and qualified workers. While the service provider makes do with the available manpower, the client demands labour worth the penny he pays. Both are right, and yet nothing is being set right.
In the last five years, some housekeeping companies have set up training centres for basic training in cleaning and supervisory tasks. In many cases, this lot of trained manpower deployed by the service provider is subjected to the minimum wage structure by the client. While both the clients and the contractors seem to agree upon the need to change the minimum wage structure, when it come to actually giving higher wages it is overshadowed by conditions like “professional performance” and “quality delivery”.
Again, for a salary of र3000 and 4000 what quality service can one expect? Besides, which qualified worker will want to work at such salaries? If this industry has to provide qualified workers, the salaries have to be much better, nothing less than र7000 or around. Low salaries have led to high attrition rates and shortage of workers.
Quality service comes at a price. If client companies expect service providers to work at costs which are much lower than the actual expenses, the service quality will diminish. The clients should refrain from pushing the service provider to an extent that he/she cannot function.
If client companies are looking at quality service, at the time of engaging the service provider, they should guard themselves against the temptation of hiring unprofessional housekeeping companies which are mushrooming every day.
The clients are often unable to choose the right service provider. And, definitely in a market where even a security company is engaged in providing housekeeping services, how does the client ascertain which one is a genuine service provider. The client would have to insist upon engaging service providers who have qualified or certified cleaning staff. Just the number of years the company has put in the service industry often, cannot be the criteria for engaging a “qualified” service provider. It is essential to check the background of the type of service provided by the contractor.
If the clients are going to generalise that the service provider is quoting higher, and that is why they are asking the service provider to reduce costs, they are ignorant. Because of this attitude even the genuine quotes given by professional service providers are slashed.
Finally, it has got to be a team work between the service provider and the client company. Unless the two join hands and come closer, the conflict will continue.