Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Paying Wages

On Sunday, for the first time in my life, I was faced with a request for a salary raise.

Rudramma, who has worked at my parents’ house for a long, long time, comes once a week to clean our place. She is an exceptional woman: she works hard and fast, cleaning shelves and hidden spaces without being asked, arranging and organizing as she cleans. I do not mind this because it is only once a week – after she has gone, I put things back where I think they belong!

We discovered early in the year how difficult it is to clean the house regularly after tiring days at school. Having to cook, wash dishes and manage other maintenance is difficult enough. In those first months, it felt like there was always something that needed to be done– the bookshelves to be dusted, or the floor or bathroom or fans to be cleaned! So we decided to have someone come in once a week to ensure that at least one regular, thorough cleaning was done. We preferred her coming in just once a week because we could then pay her a reasonable amount, and we didn’t have to have someone around the house all the time.

So when Rudramma requested a raise, we were already paying far, far above the general hourly rate around here. It is quite likely she was just pushing her luck, as my mother tells me she tends to do. But despite all the rationalization and economic theory, I do not really understand why she should be paid any less than I am. I do not earn very much: what I do earn is more than sufficient for me right now, but it would be only just enough -- perhaps not even enough -- if I had a family. And I live a fairly simple, inexpensive life.

How does one decide how much to pay someone? I do not trust the ‘rates’ – they may be the norm, but what makes them fair? On the other hand, it seems presumptuous to try to calculate how much a person ‘needs’. Then how does one decide? The only solution I have found so far is to pay according to how much I value the service provided. How much would I be willing to spend to have somebody else do this work?

I have so little experience with money that I do not know if this is viable. Insecurities come up – will I save enough, am I paying too much given my own earnings, will people take advantage of me, what is the most sensible thing to do? And there is the other kind of question - is it just conditioning that prevents me from paying more, am I being over-cautious, what is the right thing to do?

Somewhere I sense that perhaps money is something that should be used to give rather than to accumulate. And many moments come with the intense realisation that I must just trust life and what it brings, instead of protecting myself from it.

Since Angie and Adi were unreachable on the phone, I made the decision myself, after a quick consultation with my mother. I took the middle path: raised her wage, but not as much as she had asked for. Her wage is creeping close to ours now, and the next time she asks for a raise, I know I will go through the same whirl of questions!

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