Wages and bargains

C and I employ two people, a driver (Sagar) and a housekeeper (Asha). Asha cooks and cleans. We apparently pay them way more than the going rate. This doesn’t particularly worry me (except perhaps with Sagar, who gets *a lot* more than most drivers but gives us a lot less). I don’t see anything fundamentally unethical about employing people to work in your home. Domestic work is work. (And the chances of me having my lunch cooked for me 6 days a week once I return to Australia are slim indeed…). There’s a lot of talk on expat lists (and among middle-class Indians) about the ‘right’ wages for maids in particular, and making sure you’re not paying too much.  To give some facts before I get going with the polemic, maids’ wages are worked out per task, per month. So, washing dishes, for instance, is one task.  The various tasks are totted up, and then you agree on a monthly wage. Asha works for us part-time, but some maids work full time (and may live in or out).

What I’m about to say is restricted to expats. It’s really easy to be beguiled by the labour arbitrage concept. The fact that ‘arbitrage’ is commonly used on the share market makes it easy to think that you’re simply lucky, living overseas with the income of your home country and the expenses of your temporary home. But with labour, you’re not exchanging one thing for another as you might with shares or currency. The people that are working for you have a lower standard of living than someone doing the same work in your home country. Don’t, to put it bluntly, be a dick. Pay well. Pay over the odds. Pay on time. Expect the agreed work to be done, but give reasonable time off. I’m not saying that you should make ex gratia payments out of affluenza guilt, but when you make your bargain, be generous. Don’t you want someone who will be in your home almost every day to be happy with the bargain they’ve made with you? 

This Economist blog entry is worth a read, and by way of contrast have a look at this article from the tabloid Mumbai Mirror (the comments indicate that it is satire, but I’m not sure from the article itself).  

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