The ‘uberization’ of the domestic labor market in India has benefits and risks

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MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A booming digital market connecting Indian domestic workers and employers may offer benefits to some housekeepers, but will not end low wages and discrimination and may exclude women the poorest who do not have a smartphone, according to a new study.

Domestic help in India is relatively cheap, and the demand for cooks, housekeepers and babysitters is increasing as incomes rise and more women work full time.

Domestic workers, who are usually women, generally have little or no education, and the market is almost entirely unregulated, with no wages or fixed benefits for workers.

Faced with the popularity of mobile taxi apps like Uber and Ola, a handful of companies have launched apps that offer domestic workers on demand.

“This ‘uberization of domestic work’ may offer some benefits, (but) it also risks further entrenching a culture of low income, insecurity and discrimination,” according to a study by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) of UK.

A typical middle-class Indian home may have a part-time cook and a part-time cleaner. Some households have a full-time worker, while wealthier households may have a home help.

Workers are generally hired by word of mouth. Most do not receive health insurance or pensions.

Although on-demand technology can increase workers’ access to opportunities, it “does not automatically empower, and there is a great risk that marginalized groups will remain excluded,” ODI said in the report released by the government. last week.

DECENT WORK

Women make up about 80 percent of the estimated 67 million domestic workers worldwide, according to ODI.

In India, many domestic workers, mostly women, are forced to work up to 18 hours a day and face dire living conditions, abuse and violence.

A draft domestic workers bill in 2015 proposed a minimum wage of 9,000 rupees ($ 133) per month for a skilled full-time housekeeper, as well as benefits such as social security coverage and statutory holidays. This bill was not passed.

On-demand domestic work companies, including MyDidi (sister), BookMyBai (housekeeper) and TaskBob, say they help meet the demand for reliable help, while allowing workers to get better wages and conditions.

“The workers are trained, they know what they are paid, they enjoy regular hours and more flexibility,” said Anupam Sinhal, co-founder of BookMyBai and NanoJobs.

But activists say there is no oversight of agencies working to match domestic workers with employers and complaints of exploitation, trafficking and slavery abound.

“There is no regulation or oversight of agencies or these new businesses that provide on-demand services,” said Shalini Sinha of WIEGO, a lobby group for informal women workers.

“Do they really ensure a level playing field for workers? Are workers paid on time? What we need is legislation to protect these women, as well as regulation and oversight of these agencies. “

FIXED SALARY

ODI’s study of the on-demand model in South Africa has shown that it disproportionately benefits employers. For workers, this meant low wages and discrimination, he said.

Indian on-demand domestic work businesses are growing by up to 60% month-over-month, according to ODI.

The model is different from Uber’s: BookMyBai gives workers on its payroll a fixed salary of 16,000 rupees ($ 235) per month, as well as health insurance and certain benefits, regardless of the number of hours. of work, said Anupam Sinhal.

In addition, it is the company that designates a cleaning lady for a household, as many workers do not have smartphones, he said.

More than half of India’s domestic workers are illiterate and few own a smartphone or bank account, making it more difficult for women to navigate the platform on their own.

MyDidi opens a bank account for each worker, while another company texts the worker’s husband every time she is given a job, so he knows where she is.

“The gap between supply and demand is so huge that we need these services to bridge it,” Sinhal said.

“The system offers the worker the benefits of a more formal economy, despite the current challenges. “


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