Friday, February 18, 2011

You get what you pay for

My maid, cook, and gardener each get paid less than $150 each a month. This is more than double of what they get paid in regular (non expat) houses. I know many people pay way lesser and negotiate what meals they can eat at the house and bargain for every little thing. I would understand it if these folks themselves were short on money but many I encounter are most certainly not. For most it is a mindset - to get the most you can for the least you can pay, even when it means shortchanging someone to who change actually matters.

I agree with not getting ripped off or getting taken advantage of but when you pay IKEA prices you can’t expect Bloomingdales quality. For pennies you will get the work done but yes, you will have to micromanage and not grumble about lack of quality, honesty and loyalty.

When I moved here I found out the previous pay for the people I was employing. I could afford it so I gave them a raise and had a little talk with them. I told them what my expectations were and very clearly explained that I was not going to micromanage but at the same time I would not stand bad work. I expected quality, honesty and loyalty.

Six months later I must say I have it good. I do not have to micromanage; they show up on time and get the work done. I am in what many Indian housewives would call “household help nirvana”. I am sure I could squeeze a little more out of each of them. I am sure I could fire one of them and get the others to suck up the work but then I would not be writing this post. I would be screaming at one of them and then calling my mom and telling her how horrible help in India is. Yes, I would certainly get what I paid for.

I have been warned that once bitten I will change my tone about household help - bitten means cheated in some way. I am sure I will be disappointed and more cautious but I am unwilling to throw away something good I have going out of that fear.

The fear that I am working on instead is that of my kids growing up expecting people doing things for them and not valuing it.


  1. Mallika, I agree with you completely. In HK domestic workers have a fixed minimum pay you have to give them every month and 1 day a week off mandatory. There are also around 12 holidays in a year they have off, not to mention a payed trip back to their home countries every year. It took me a little time to get used to the fact that I had no choice but to dish out this amt. of money if I wanted to keep a full time helper. Even now some people I know who have just moved from India struggle with the fact that we have to give "So much more"to the helpers here compared to in India and not to mention treat them completely differently.
    One cannot afford to scream at them here or work them till 1-2 in the morning on a regular basis or expect them to constantly behave in a grateful manner.
    But there is a huge benefit in doing things right, by the law and not having escape routes. If lucky, you find a good worker, educated, who can manage your house and your kids, take cabs on their own, shop in grocery stores here, take phone messages etc etc. The quality is VERY different from what one finds in India. And I have realized that if you can afford to give a little more, give it! After all $50 extra doesn't make a dent in our wallets.... it's a few beers with friends......for them it will run their household, feed their kids for a month!!!
    Point Being...if you are fortunate enough to live the life you are living...pass a few bucks along to help the people who are making your life easier!

  2. Interesting post Mallika, ofcourse we have spoken about this. House help in India is a sector without any rights. It is not even a recognised profession, no labour laws and such, barring a few borderline hogwash ones. A friend was moved to document her relationship with her maid, the film may be available online. It basically talks about one of the most prolific professions in the cities, a profession that functions without any real and tangible laws and bylaws. So what one pays, and how one deals with their servants remains their own sole responsibility. Exploitation - happens on many levels. Playing boss, puts you in the position. You deal with it the way you deem fit. Same goes for the servants they deal with it, the way they deem fit. All because we do not have proper laws. I couldnt deal with any of it. So I decided not to have house help, well not the 24 hour kind anyway. I dont know how long I can keep this going, as demands on my time get harder, travel becomes mandatory. Sooner or later I would probably need a bigger circle of house help. But I take it as it comes. For now.

  3. Some times, there might be a benefit in doing the right thing. But, there are times doing right thing costs. The point is: If you believe in doing right, do it regardless.

    For the most important things like freedom, people who fought for it may never even enjoy it. They fight for what they believe in because, thats what matters. Winning is not even imaginable sometimes.