Meenakshi Gupta Jain launched Helper4U — an online platform — to link Mumbai’s domestic workers with jobs, and to stop sexual and financial exploitation.
New Delhi: In the upscale residential area of Powai in Mumbai, Meenakshi Gupta Jain met a migrant domestic worker from the slums — a 35-year-old single mother of two with no income.
“She was on the verge of a nervous breakdown because she was not getting a job,” said Jain.
Jain recalled being surprised by the worker’s unemployed status, for there was ample need for domestic help in her apartment building.
She told the woman that the security guard would give her the details, but the woman responded: “Why would the security guard send me to you? He will only send me if he knows me or I give him something in return. If I had money, I would pay him. But without that, I would have to go with him in a corner.”
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It was an incident that was to change not just this worker’s life but also those of thousands of others, for it led Jain to start Helper4U, an online platform to assist them in finding work, and thus, preventing their financial and sexual exploitation.
Jain said the conversation with this worker was when she had a brainwave that led to Helper4U.
“It struck me that all these security guards are migrants, living away from their families. They get this simple way to satisfy their urges. It’s just like a casting couch… it gave me goosebumps.”
Urged on by the revelation, Jain started Helper4U towards the end of 2014, and officially registered it in January 2016. It’s now a platform connecting domestic workers, drivers, peons, delivery boys, and the unskilled workforce with job opportunities.
There are 35,000 male and female job seekers over the age of 18 listed on the platform. Helper4U has connected 4,000 individuals to jobs in the last two years in Mumbai, and is now focussing on expanding to Delhi-NCR and Pune.
Delivery companies and online at-home healthcare providers are among those who hire their workers from Helper4U.
The platform differs from one-time service providers or agencies because it connects workers to short-term or long-term jobs.
The biggest difference, said Jain, is that Helper4U “stops sexual and labour exploitation”.
“Maids will only be exploited when there is a lack of jobs, and they need to rely on someone to tell them about job openings. But now, maids don’t need to go to security guards to know about domestic job openings anymore,” she said.
The platform does not force any job seekers into jobs they don’t like.
“Job seekers are free to take up or reject a job. Agencies would say, ‘you have to work here for 11 months’. We say you don’t like a job, come back and we’ll find some other job for you,” said Jain.
Helper4U ensures that the salary is fair. “On our website, for each job description, the expected salary is mentioned. We don’t go below this,” said Jain.
The typical salary is around Rs 12,000-15,000 per month.
Jain added that all workers are paid fair and equal amounts. “Some households only ask for maids from Jharkhand or Goa because they are paid the least. Households sometimes won’t pay more than Rs 20,000 per annum on account of meals and accommodation given to the maid. We don’t encourage either of this.”
In exchange for all this, Helper4U charges a nominal subscription fee — from the employers, not employees.
“Most agencies ask for at least one month’s salary (as commission). You only pay us Rs 899,” Jain said.
Job seekers can sign up by calling up their office directly, filling an online form in English or Hindi, or via affiliate partners working in slums, Anganwadis or Aadhaar enrolment centres. Word of mouth has also been a strong driver for the platform, as job seekers from as far as Jammu have signed up.
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Problem of exploitation
In her experience, Jain said female domestic workers in big cities like Mumbai are easy to exploit because they are women whose husbands have recently come to the city looking for work. These women too are new to the city, and have no support network to rely on to help find a job, or for emotional support.
According to the World Economic Forum, there are 139 million internal migrants in India as of the 2011 census. The workers mostly come from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Madhya Pradesh, and end up in regions like Delhi, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu.
According to data from the Delhi Labour Organisation, there are more than five crore domestic workers in India, mostly women.
“They don’t have the qualifications to read a newspaper or an advertisement – nothing,” says Jain, which increases vulnerability to exploitation.
That’s where Helper4U can help.