India outsources chores as servant culture shifts

Cultural shift as middle class turns to companies for helpers rather than employing full-time staff

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 July, 2014, 11:12pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 July, 2014, 11:12pm

Need someone to pay your bills and pick up your shopping, take an elderly relative to hospital or deliver 26 presents to your girlfriend on her 26th birthday?

These are just some of the requests received by Get My Peon, one of the new Indian companies offering to do your chores and errands in a country traditionally reliant on full-time servants.

Hired help still plays a huge role in hierarchical Indian society, with those who can afford it employing maids, cooks, drivers and nannies, as well as "peons" or servants at work - still an acceptable term in India for office boys and runners.

But more are opting to outsource their daily tasks rather than depend on in-house staff. Get My Peon, set up in Mumbai in 2012, now has about 800 clients on its books, from chief executives to housewives.

Getting the right people is tough ... and you’ve got to keep track of them

"People have stopped doing things the old-fashioned way. The labour costs for full-time staff are very high," said Bharat Ahirwar, the 29-year-old founder of Get My Peon, which charges 200 rupees (HK$25) for a one-way errand.

While India's urban middle-class is growing and looking for affordable help, new avenues are opening for poorer workers who earlier were more likely to settle as full-time, often poorly paid, servants.

"The availability of manpower is going down," said Bhavin Shah, who runs dehydrated meals company Satvita Foods and regularly uses Get My Peon for deliveries after previously employing his own runner.

"Getting the right kind of people is tough; they occupy real estate, a lot of things are required for full-time staff and you've got to keep track of them all the time," he said. "The more you can outsource, the better it is."

Having your own staff still appears to be something of a status symbol - some of Get My Peon's users prefer their clients not to know they are using the service instead of a personal servant.

"That happens a lot," said Ahirwar, who employs a team of about 10 runners.

As well as being assigned errands, they can be hired for a day to help with certain tasks at home or in the office.

Anil Dharker, a Mumbai columnist who writes on social issues, said most Indian companies now wanted fewer employees on their books and therefore fewer liabilities, with a declining number enlisting full-time chauffeurs for senior executives.

"They give an allowance and the executive finds his own person," said Dharker, adding that various taxi firms offered drivers for hire by the day in a country where public transport options remained limited.

Get My Peon has meanwhile tied up with several other start-ups offering to take care of household chores, including laundry service Chamak Direct, professional cleaners Hammer and Mop and home repairs firm Travtus Workforce.

"I don't think middle-class people in Indian cities have ever held a drill in their life. They're so used to having people do it for them," said Travtus founder Tripty Arya.



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