Surging demand of ‘Badli bais’ and economics lessons..

Interesting article in ToI. Badla is a infamous word in Indian finance but finds great acceptance in household (economics) in Mumbai.

Badli Bais (as the name suggests), is a maid who acts as a replacement for the main helper. This is especially the case in Summers when main helpers go on a leave to native villages.

How do you cook for a month with just 200 grams of oil? “You just boil vegetables mostly,” says home cook Pulkit Mukhia, who would not have known the answer a month ago. The 28-year-old learnt this rationing trick last month while working for a health conscious couple in Khar, who had called him to replace their cook temporarily. This month long stint was one of around 20 wild card assignments Mukhia landed this summer while many of his counterparts were away on their annual leave. “It is better to stay put in the city in April and May,” says Mukhia, who received close to 40 desperate calls in these hot months and fetched a cool surplus of almost Rs 50,000. “You earn in two months what you would in five.”

Mumbai’s workforce of ‘substitutes’ doesn’t just make hay, it makes a killing when the sun shines. Between March and June, the city’s vertebra—domestic help, home cooks and drivers—goes missing in spurts. Weddings and festivals back home beckon. Many housemaids travel to their native place in rural Maharashtra while drivers and home cooks—who chiefly hail from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar—go home for anywhere between 15 days and a month, creating a temporary scarcity.

Long ago, this scenario gave birth to the ‘badli’ bai—the domestic help who will replace your housemaid for a few extra bucks. Today, an industry thrives on this paucity.

It surely makes economic sense to stay during summer and make money off the shortages in labor markets.

The concept has moved from household help to taxis and other services as well:

Besides substitute cooks and drivers, a host of businesses such as maid agencies, driver-on-hire and tiffin services prepare for the customary deluge of calls.  “It doubles,” says Rehan Shaikh, owner of Work Hard Drivers at BKC, about the demand for drivers in summer. Instead of the usual 25 to 30 leads per day, Shaikh is now getting around 60.

Since many of the drivers on his team too are on leave at the moment, “I am not able to provide a driver on the same day. I need a day’s notice at least,” says Shaikh. At Rs 600 for an eight hour shift, these freelance drivers could earn up to Rs 28,000 per month, which is twice as much as their salaried counterparts. Of course, clients try to bargain. “We quote Rs 650 for eight hours, they say Rs 500,” says Shaikh.

Though am always intrigued to figure this. Despite huge perceived supply of unskilled labor, there is always labor shortage in India. Ideally, one would imagine given the surplus labor supply in India, it should not  be too much of an issue filling these spots. Infact it should be the other way as those with jobs might never go on a leave fearing easy replacement and loss of job.

Infact this is nothing new really but has become quite prevalent. The cost of all these services has risen exponentially in recent years and there is a huge shortage of labor related to household maintenance, electricity, plumbing and so on. One is actually seeing emergence of a firm like structure for these services in large cities, just as in the west. Now if, this labor was getting employed elsewhere in so called productive formal services (frankly there is far more money to be made in the unskilled variety as of now), it was fine. But this is also not emerging as most reports  point to low employment transition. So not sure what is going on..

Anyways, knowing about this badli industry was fascinating..


One Response to “Surging demand of ‘Badli bais’ and economics lessons..”

  1. vijaypriya13 Says:

    The main reason is that we do not value labor even the unskilled do not value labor and feel it is below their dignity to be working as such.With regard to the slightly more skilled work such as driving, carpentry etc the cost is very high for the poor to learn. When I say poor it is the abject poor who would be able to do any job.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: