Why India's domestic help are joining job sites

A maid in Calcutta Image copyright Other
Image caption Household help is integral to urban Indian society

For three years, Bangalore computer professional Priya Sathiyam had turned to local agencies to find a maid to cook and watch her young son during the day.

With each hire, she had to shell out a month's salary to the agency. Several cooks left after three-month stints - forced out, she believes, by the agency in a ploy to earn more advances.

"I had a lot of bad experiences," says Ms Sathiyam, 32, in her suburban apartment.

Finally, she found an agreeable employee in Mary Regina, after abandoning the agencies and taking to the internet.

Household help is integral to urban Indian society - and it is a huge market. A few young technology companies in India are trying to tap into this market, and introduce a more professional pedigree.

Babajob Services, the start-up that connected Sathiyam to Regina, operates like the professional networking site LinkedIn, but for blue-collar jobs.

Employers, such as Sathiyam, fill out an online profile, listing available positions; they can pay a one-off fee starting at 1,499 rupees ($24; £15) to view top candidates based on desired salary and location.

Job seekers fill out profiles with years of experience, languages spoken and salary requirements. When a potential employer approves them, the applicants receive an automated text message about the candidate contacting them.

Babajob posts jobs in 23 categories and has listed 2.2 million jobs across India since its inception in 2007.

That is only a sliver of the nation's low-wage sector.

At least 2.5 million households are currently searching for employees in India's largest eight cities alone, estimates Get Domestic Help (GDH), an online job placement agency based in the capital, Delhi. Households often hire up to three workers.

'Huge need'

Typically, hiring is done informally, based on recommendations and without documentation. The rate of attrition is high.

"There is a huge need for finding verified help," says managing director Murali Bukkapatnum who opened the company's Hyderabad branch in 2012, a year after GDH began.

Image copyright Mark Bergen
Image caption Mary Regina is a cook with 15 years of experience

After a 12-year stint in the US, Mr Bukkapatnum travelled to his hometown between Hyderabad and Bangalore. He had returned with advanced degrees and stints at several companies under his belt, but found his childhood maid still in the same profession.

"Her career had not gone anywhere," he recalls. "She's doing the same thing. She still can't read. She's still getting the same salary."

GDH provides training and certification for domestic workers in a bid to help them advance their careers.

"If you look at household help, they are also doing three jobs," Mr Bukkapatnum explains - a cook may also be working as a waiter and doing the washing-up.

Through certification, GDH believes domestic workers will enjoy an upward mobility in their careers that they previously did not have.

Mr Bukkapatnum, who takes placement fees from both parties, says workers' salaries increase by around 20% after certification.

Vir Kashyap, the chief operating officer of Babajob, which is based in Bangalore, also claims his service's users see a similar boost in the size of their incomes.

Equally important in congested Indian cities is his other claim - that users reduce their commute by an average of 14 minutes.

'Not fair'

Vinla, a 42-year old cook in Bangalore, has used Babajob for five years and has introduced six other women seeking work to the site.

She listed the availability of jobs closer to home as being among the prime benefits of the service.

According to Mr Kashyap, Babajob's aim is to make a gigantic, unorganised market more efficient.

"Still, in every country, the way you find out about jobs is very dependent on your social network," he says. "It's not fair that just because someone has a better network, they're getting access to a better pool of jobs."

Image copyright Other
Image caption Most domestic workers in India find work through their social network

Babajob, which is funded by multiple US investors, including venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, is looking to replicate the success of start-ups like the US-based, an online marketplace for caregiver services preparing to launch an IPO (initial public offering) reportedly above $475m (£291m).

Indians are frequent users of online employment sites. LinkedIn claims 20 million members in the country, roughly a 10th of its total global users.

Naukri, an Indian white-collar job portal, which went public in 2006, is worth roughly £527m (£323m). In 2010, Nanojobs, a similar portal for hiring drivers, security guards and service employees, launched operations in Mumbai.

But expanding an internet platform with blue-collar Indians, who often lack access to and familiarity with technology, has its hitches.

As well as targeting domestic workers, the company has also moved into the more lucrative market of blue-collar hiring at large corporations.

When Vinla and her friends signed up for Babajob, they came directly to the company's office to create profiles - a luxury unavailable to millions of job-seekers elsewhere.

To discuss the service, I attempted to email and call several job-seekers but received no response. Ms Sathiyam screened 20 applicants for her position. Around half the numbers from the website, she says, were dysfunctional or ineffective.

She eventually interviewed and hired Regina, a congenial cook with 15 years of experience, who now shares Ms Sathiyam's apartment six days a week.

For the past four years, Regina worked for a Lebanese family in Kuwait. Her return to India, in October, has meant a salary cut - in Kuwait, she earned more than twice her 10,000-rupee ($160; £98) monthly salary in Bangalore.

But she had no issue finding employment, securing her new position in her third week back.

She couldn't offer an opinion on the Babajob site, however. Her son, Vinod, a film director, signed her up.

"I don't know about that website," she says, smiling. "One day, I just got a call."

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