Service-providers: Wary but waiting

Indumati Lokeshwar, 73, from Malleswaram, suppressed a wry smile when she learnt that a website provides her with a priest to conduct puja, which she found as overt commercialisation of what is considered as “service to god”. 

Though she logged on to the site to search for a plumber, she had clicked the first icon, “Puja.” It instantly took her to a page with options to choose between priests of various sects and different pujas.

“Priests belong to the unorganised sector and are reclusive in nature. Also, people who conduct special pujas prefer priests from specific mutts, traditions and culture. For example, it is hard to get a priest who knows the Mangaluru culture.
It is in this gap that service-aggregator websites come to play,” explains Shashi Sharma, a priest.

He has reached an agreement with one such aggregator website that provides services ranging from performing puja to cleaning toilets, from plumbers to passport consultants .

Though the rise in popularity of such apps and websites is symptomatic of the frayed people-to-people relationships, the changes effected by this transformation are limited to urban pockets. The traditional word-of-mouth method of establishing contacts seems to be losing ground. Nevertheless, Indumathi decided to try the website next time to fix plumbing issues.

However, it may take several years for the aggregators to really effect a significant change in the handymen sector, which is too large and dispersed. 

Mark, the proprietor of JS Plumbing Works in Koramangala, says that people trust an aggregator more than the advertisements often posted freely on websites such as Quikr. “But you have to lose something to gain something,” he points out. A handyman who depends on aggregators cannot accept other assignments as he has to keep himself available all the time.

Ramesh Kumar from Gorakhpur is still unaware of the aggregator websites. “Woh to bade logon ki baath hai (Such things are for big people),” he says. He feels the new set-up will help only people who maintain big apartments and commercial spaces. 

“I came to the City 17 years ago as an odd-jobs man. Today, I have become an established painter and employ four others. If websites rule the handyman sector, then don’t expect to see an odd-job-man growing up to become a contractor in future,” he points out. 

But Gopinath, a plumber based in Koramangala, is happy about the arrangement he has made with an e-aggregator. “The company has taken my work beyond my locality, as now I get jobs from more areas,” he explains. 

Sudha K, a part-time cook who works in three houses to earn about Rs 12,000 a month, is apprehensive to learn about the e-aggregators. “The catering companies have already taken away even the part-time cooking jobs. I hope the e-aggregators won’t put people like us out of work,” she remarks. 

But what if the e-aggregators actually help solve one of the main problems dogging the handymen sector, low wages? Sudha believes such an arrangement comes with a catch. Her contention: Handymen will still be unorganised while the power of fixing wages is transferred from the employer to the aggregator. “I once had a plan to start an association of cooks to demand minimum wages,” she adds.

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