It may not be an overstatement to say that one of the most underpaid and ill-treated occupation is that of a housemaid. At the same time, the maid is also a very important part of most people's daily life. The day, she fails to turn up, schedules in most households go haywire. And for all the cleaning, scrubbing and cooking, the best that she can look forward to is the odd festival bonus. No hikes, no benefits, no paid leaves.
Moved by the plight of domestic help, a Bangalore couple, Rati and Prateek Rana decided to offer them a helping hand. Their start-up, Housemaidforyou.com plans to better the working conditions of domestic maids. "It is a portal where Bangaloreans can specify the type of maids they want. In return, we will make sure that the maids get good salary, leaves and are treated well," says Rati.
The couple has set up a Facebook page for their initiative. "We have got a very good response on our FB page. We have been getting lot of enquiries." The service will formally take off on August 1.
A new beginning
Despite years of charity work and volunteering with NGOs, the couple always felt there was a lot more they could do. "Charity can only do so much. What can really help people improve their lives is social entrepreneurship. That's when we started thinking up of ideas which we could implement," says Rati.
Last year, a decision to spend Christmas with slum dwellers in Whitefield proved to be an eye opener. "We realised how a section of the society celebrates festivals extravagantly and how in contrast, another section wants to celebrate but has no resources," she adds.
It prompted them to quit their high paying jobs without a second thought. "Our first task was to gain an in depth understanding of the problems that the maids face. In the past one year, we have spent most of our time interacting with several of them, most of whom live in Bangalore slums," says Rati.
After months of research, the couple realised that most domestic helps lacked training. Also, it was important to make them realise their worth as employees, who have equal rights to demand job security, fixed income and paid leaves.
"This is a very unprofessional sector where there are no limits to salary negotiations and you can pay according to your convenience. Being part of a professional organisation instead, would prevent them from being exploited. That's how our company was born," says Rati. The couple also realised that people who earn in lakhs also bargain for Rs 100 when it comes to employing maids.
How they bridge the gap
The couple has decided to improvise on their skills so that they get better jobs and salaries. "Basic things like hygiene and manners really make a difference. We are teaching them how to conduct themselves," says Rati. Also, potential clients will have to sign a document which states that if the domestic help is harassed or ill-treated, legal action can be taken against them.
"These measures will ensure protection to the maid," they say. With a little extra cost, they will also install CCTV cameras in your house, in case you are at work when the maid comes to clean up or takes care of an elderly person or a child. "The client can watch live streaming sitting in their offices," says Rati.
Working women can forget their worries even if the maid does not turn up for work as in the event of this, they will instantly provide a replacement.
The real catch
What really sets them apart from the usual agencies is that they are also looking at employing AIDS victims, ex-sex workers, rape victims, victims of domestic violence and orphans. "Even the well educated and the so-called elite shun them. Change will only happen when we create new opportunities for them. The number of social entrepreneurs need to grow," they say.
Added to this, they will not keep their identity under wraps and motivate the clients to hire them. This will only happen if we treat them like equals. "My intention is not only to give them employment but also spread awareness. If I don't disclose their identity, then I am only giving them work, not spreading awareness. If people don't employ them, then I will provide them work. Maybe then people will change their mind-set," says Prateek.
A challenging task
The most difficult part of the initiative was convincing the slum dwellers. "When they see well dressed people stepping out of a car, they get scared. After all the exploitation, they are suspicious. So convincing them of our business plan was the most difficult part," says Rati. "You have to really struggle to make them understand that you are doing this for their own good," Prateek adds.