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Who is to blame – Client or Contractor?

Contractor A: Why should I provide service to a company that refuses to pay minimum wages?

Client: When the Government has fixed minimum wages, why should I pay even single paise more than that?

Contractor A: Then what about the equipment we use for cleaning? Who will pay for that? What about the chemicals?

Client: What equipment? What chemicals? It is simple ‘safai ka kaam’, we don’t need all that for cleaning our premises. Just provide the workers and they can use phenyl and kapada to clean the floors.

Contractor B: Well, when the client does not understand what cleaning is all about, what should the contractor do?

Contractor C: I definitely would not like to work for such a client.

Contractor D: But, to be in business, I have to compromise. If I will not take up the contract, someone else will.

These were some of the extreme reactions Clean India Journal recorded over the phone during a day-long conversation with some of the housekeeping service providers from across the country.

The housekeeping service or the building service is the most commonly outsourced service in India. Though started in a small way, the housekeeping sector today has grown to include more than 3000-4000 small, medium, big and professional contractors across the country. Mohana M discusses with a few housekeeping professionals the detrimental factors impeding the healthy working relationship between a contractor and his client

On the one end, there are contractors who do not want to take up the job if it means compromising on the wages or standards and on the other, there are a few who are prepared to work even if it means offering poor quality service.

Survival game

Ashok Bhola,
Krishna Housekeeping Services, New Delhi

It is not a question of sub-standard performance or cost cutting. It’s about whether I want to do the job or not. Once I have decided, I may do a job contract for two or even one per cent margin. This is a competitive business and if one decides to offer services at such low margins then he or she will do so in ways that fits the budget. Definitely, there will be a compromise on services provided to make some profits.

Naturally, in this game of low margins, I will have to offer sub-standard services and probably, I may not use branded chemicals or equipment. When I have stepped into the arena, I have to fight the battle. If I am going to stand before a client and talk about giving better service only if he is ready to offer a better rate, no one is going to give the job to me. At that point, I am not going to stick to the guns and talk of ethics, as I have to be in business.

This is not something that is happening only in the housekeeping business, it is common to every sector. Take the Tata’s new cheap car where most of the parts are made out of plastic. Now, we do have cheaper substitutes to cleaning products so why not use them?

Lumpsum payment

Shivkumar Tiwari,
Scorpio Facility Management Pvt Ltd, New Delhi

In this business, many clients are reluctant to pay even the minimum wages or take care of the compliances. They pay a lump sum amount and ask us to get on with whatever is possible. This definitely forces the service provider to opt for products and services that fit the budget of the contract.

This further leads to other malpractices; like when things come up for auditing at the site, the service provider engages in corrupt practices to get away with sub-standard products and performance. This is an unending problem which we have created ourselves for our own advantage. Unless we change our narrow outlook, I do not think we will be able to come out of this vicious cycle.

P.N. Viswanathan,
Oriental Facility, Thane

As far as we are concerned, we provide all the benefits like PF, ESIC to our staff, if such benefits are extended to us by our principal employers. But, many of them, including government agencies go for the lowest quote and are only interested in the lowest rating, even when the estimate shown is at the higher end.

Leading paint manufacturing company, Mumbai

We go for competitive bidding. Irrespective of what the vendor is quoting, we check on his background. If need be, we go by the track record of the vendor. We also check on their clientele, get feedback, check legal compliance and also meet some of the contract labourers. We being the principal employers, we do not want to get into trouble, hence we take care of all aspects.

It’s a compromise

Ashok Bhola,
Krishna Housekeeping Services, New Delhi

Just because a contractor is ready to work on lower margins, it does not mean he is bargaining on the workers’ wages. He compromises on other benefits, for example he cuts down the service tax from 10% to 5%. Now to make up this 5%, he compromises on the wages, the PF, the ESI or on the cleaning materials.

A lot of money goes out of the contractor’s pocket. Even for a simple labour licence he has to shell out over Rs.50,000. All these overheads are not included in the contract. So he has to compromise some way or the other.

Agreed that the government has laid down minimum wages and we too should urge the principal employer to pay more. But, when we are so engrossed in undercutting, how can we expect anything from the client?
Shivkumar Tiwari
Scorpio Facility Management Pvt Ltd, New Delhi

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