Almost 99% of the service providers in India engage manpower that is available for minimum wages. The Government has set norms of minimum wages to ensure that a worker is not given less than this. “But that does not mean one cannot give more than the minimum wages,” argues Dr JPS Bakshi, Managing Director, Lion Services Ltd. “Most clients feel, being the principal employer, they are at least paying the minimum wages. They, at the same time, demand standard services, trained manpower, security clearance, medical clearance, effective performance and everything within minimum wages.” Under these circumstances, the main challenges faced by the housekeeping company today is to find these kind of people who are prepared to work for minimum wages, then motivate them to join an industry that is looked down upon and finally, to retain them.
Houseboys mostly come from the rural areas and view the cleaning job as an entry into the urban space. No sooner they get established than they begin looking for other opportunities. The cleaning companies lure workers by offering just Rs.100 more than what he is getting in the present job or a place to stay.
“These sops and incentives add up to the cost of services offered by the housekeeping company and is not being paid by the client. Neither is the client paying the benefits, bonus, gratuity or any other incentive. The clients outsource such services at the minimum cost which is much lower than what he would incur in hiring his own employee. In a private sector company, the cost of hiring a cleaning crew is probably around Rs.5000 and the same if hired on a permanent basis by the client, is more than Rs.10,000!” In this minimum wage scenario, retention of workers is not only a challenge but also very difficult. There are much better opportunities in the market today. “A construction worker or a driver may be able to earn more than a houseboy working in an air-conditioned office.”
The situation becomes graver when housekeeping companies try to give their workforce social security and other benefits. Such benefits involve the contribution of the workers too. The moment deductions are made, the worker’s carry-home salary becomes less. “Firstly, they do not understand what social security can do for them. Secondly, they are receiving only minimum wages; over and above which, if deductions are made, they are not motivated. Unfortunately, by not adopting required practices and not paying benefits, the housekeeping company may manipulate the workers by giving incentives and sops. The service provider stands to benefit.
“In this race of retaining workers, the ethical or professional service providers are the ones who bear the cost of providing all the benefits to their workers, invest in training and systems but they are the same companies that lose their staff to unprofessional service providers,” says Dr Bakshi.
The going gets tougher for service providers, as clients delay payments. “Housekeeping companies, to sustain themselves, have to have deep pockets or forfeit workers’ benefits and thus, enjoy huge profit margins. With each housekeeping company having on payroll an average of 1000 workers, the outgoing as benefits to the workers is considerable. Unfortunately, most service providers are engaging in noncompliance today to stay in the business. The government has to become much stricter and ensure that every service company complies with the statutory requirements.
“Unless the dynamics of contracting moves on from a headcount-based system to total solutions-based system, we cannot expect much change in the scenario. For example, if the service requirement at a facility is 80 headcounts, with some amount of mechanization and with the right mix of skill and machines, this can be brought down to 60. This helps in paying more to the workers as they are skilled; you can retain them, train them and they perform better. Over a period of time, manpower could be brought down to basic minimum level and the client too gets the value for his money. In turn, career option can be planned for the houseboys.
“Apparently, training can be imparted only when one is sure the workers will remain with you. No housekeeping company wants to invest further into training now. Instead of sending them to training institute, every service provider should provide on-the-job training programmes on basic skills and etiquettes. The new entrants can be put on to the job with some staff who are already trained.
“At the time of screening, one has to ascertain the level of motivation the houseboy has to work in the cleaning business. Is it a stop gap arrangement for him or has he been hired just to meet the headcount? “In due course of time, as the industry scenario changes, workers can be sent to formal training institutes for certification courses. There are some training institutes but training has not become a big business as yet. With staff running into thousands and a high turnover, formal training will be a huge investment for the housekeeping companies now,”he explained.
In the developed countries, there are formal training facilities, but these are taken up only by those who are very clear about wanting to pursue in this profession. Workers there do have the basic skill like using a hover or a vacuum cleaner and they go in for training only in case of a new technology being adopted or want to know more about latest equipment where they require training. But, in India, training is required even in basic skills.