Dirty Work

One of the things that I did not anticipate that I would need to do before we left was find jobs for our helpers. The majority of the domestic workers here don’t have computers or smart phones, so being able to post their availability to the message boards where the ex-pat families look for staff. I don’t mind doing it, and actually am glad that I can play a role in finding them a good fit with a nice family. What I didn’t anticipate was that it would take so long.

Part of the problem is that we, according to some ex-pats and virtually all locals, over pay our staff.  I don’t agree, I feel that we have hired good, hard-working and loyal staff.  I don’t have complaints about them, my family loves them all and they do not let us down.  I know their expenses, and our wages allow them to pay their expenses and take care of their families without killing themselves working extra jobs.  I find it ironic that, in our community, some of the very people who complain about the wages that the “foreigners” (their word, not mine) pay are the landlords who charge those same “foreigners” an exorbitantly high rent.  While I understand that the wages one pays ones staff is a personal choice, I often feel there is a double standard, in that it is OK for people to tell me that I over pay, but I am not allowed to tell them they under pay.

Our cook, Lakshmi, is a wonderful lady.  I posted her availability in late August, and received interest from a newly arrived family in our community.  I met with the mother, told her all about Lakshmi, including what we paid her (which is pretty much what the last two families that she worked for had paid her).  This lady told me she understood and arranged a trial for Lakshmi.  They were please with her work, the family enjoyed her cooking and the children really liked her.  They offered her a job, as cook and nanny, but for a little more than half of what we were paying her.  She was afraid of not being able to pay her rent and her son’s college tuition, so she reluctantly agreed to the work.

The family was in the process of hiring a maid, so my maid also talked to them.  She ultimately turned them down, as they offered her essentially half of what we pay her.  When they were unsuccessful in hiring a maid, the cleaning duties also fell to Lakshmi.  She was still working for us, working a part time job in the mornings, and now doing full-time work for this family in a little over four hours.  This was outside of what she was hired for, and it was killing her. She came to me last week to let me know that she could not go back.

I didn’t expect that she would ask me to contact the family and essentially resign for her.  She is afraid of confrontation, and worried that it would go badly.  I reluctantly agreed, and sent a note explaining Lakshmi’s difficulty with the work, and asking for the salary that was owed to her.  The request for wages was an afterthought, but I know there have been at least two occasions where Lakshmi has worked and not been paid for her efforts, despite leaving at the agreed end of her duties.  In one case it was a few days wages, but in the second it was a full month’s salary.  I hate that people feel this is OK, that they don’t need to pay for the work when their employee leaves.  While I know that I only have Lakshmi’s side of the story, I believe her when she tells me of the work that was expected, and the physical toll it was taking on her.

It took two more messages, and the fact that Lakshmi had given me the key to their house key to return before I got a response with a promise that the wages would be dropped off and the key collected today.  I just made the exchange, and feel much better for having done this, even though it is WAY outside my comfort zone. I know that Lakshmi needs to pay for her son’s schooling, and this will certainly help.

On a positive note, we have also found her a lovely family where she seems to be quite happy.  I know she’ll love it there, and am very relieved.

Category: India, life | 2 comments

  • People like you make all the difference in the world!

  • Heather says:

    Smiles :) We think of Lakshmi very often, and miss her! And of course your family ;) Safe travels!

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