Douwe Osinga's Blog: Good help is hard to find

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Employing people is a fact of live in India for people with a certain income, obviously much more so than for example in Switzerland. Cheap labor does that and even though it might make you feel strange for a bit, it is ultimately good to create jobs, or at least that's what we keep telling ourselves. It is also rather convenient of course.

The colonial feel of it all is not lessened by the Indian tendency not to use euphemisms like staff or cleaning service industry. It's servants and house boys and that's what they call them.

If you have a family, employing 3 or 4 people is quite normal: a cook, a driver, a house boy and a nanny is sort of the starters kit. We are very modest. Google provides us with a pool of drivers to choose from, with 3 meals a day and we don't have children. So a house boy is all that is left. When we talked to the guy that arranges that (there's always a guy), he said we'd have him for 48 hours a week, since that's how it works.

48 hours a week for cleaning really seemed like a lot, considering that all we needed was some cleaning and shopping. The cost of it might have been per month what it costs you in Zurich for an afternoon, but still, you don't want to have somebody sit around in your house all the time doing nothing. So we were happy when we found a co-worker who would share him with us.

Our employee had to think about this one though. Serving two households, that didn't seem right. When he reported back, he said he'd wanted twice the money if he had to work for twice the households. Simple math and he was studying business, so he should know. It took a lot of negotiations to get a more western idea of numbers across, but we're all living happily ever after now.

He cleans, figures out what the other people dropping by are up to and most importantly, makes sure that the fridge is stocked with beer. Now that the temperatures are rising and we're no longer in those wintry high twenties celcius, this is becoming more of requirement.

He also shows how different rickshaw drivers treat foreigners. As noted in a previous post, we have the greatest trouble getting them to switch on the meters and even though the shop isn't far away, I'd be happy if I could get it for 20 rupees. He made it on 8, which is 2 less than the flag fall on the meter. For a return.