Saturday, July 2, 2011

Kyon nahin aaya kal ? (Why didn't you come yesterday ?)

Consider the following employee employer relationship. The post is set in an Indian context, but it could be true of virtually any developing country.

There is no written contract of employment. The worker is paid below that statutory minimum wage. There is no Provident Fund or Employee State Insurance, both of which are statutorily mandated in India. There is no paid leave. Most often, there is no weekly off. Child labour is acceptable. Physical abuse is not unknown. Sexual abuse is ,alas, not rare. Verbal abuse is often. There is no training for the job. There are no rest breaks. The job is monotonous, repetitive, and physically taxing. There is hardly a word of praise or feedback. Biting criticism from the employer is a daily affair.

The workers absent themselves at the drop of a hat. Attrition is enormous; the worker often just absconds or runs away. Coming on time is an alien concept. The worker tries her best to finish faster and with as less effort as possible - quality be damned. 

The employer is usually a lady - ninety percent of the time. She fervently believes that she is the fairest employer of all and all this unsavoury labour practices, which she incidentally tch tches at,  are done by other amazons , not her. And look at how ungrateful her employee is - she bunked today. The beauty is that the employer cannot do without the employee. And yet, such is the treatment.

The employee is also usually a lady - ninety nine percent of the time.  In her opinion, she is the very epitome of decency and hard work and her employer is the perfect example of a Rakshasi (demon).

This is a gigantic industry. There are an estimated 50 m workers in this category globally - some 10m in India and probably an equal number in China. They are to be found all over the developing world. Minus this industry, half the countries in the world would come to a grinding halt.

You would have thought that in such a situation, there would be huge improvements and advancements. Lots of innovation, technology, good practices, corporotisation, etc etc. Not so. The industry is stuck in a time warp. The only change that has happened in the last decade or two is that the worker now carries a mobile phone, instead of being completely non contactable.

Welcome to the world of the maid.