Page last updated at 01:45 GMT, Monday, 10 March 2008

India's wages surge but risks multiply

Karishma Vaswani
By Karishma Vaswani
India business correspondent, BBC News, Mumbai

Indian salaries climbed by an average 15% last year, the fastest rate of growth worldwide, a survey has claimed.

And that growth is expected this year as well, even though the economy is set to slow.

So who exactly is making all this money?

It has been a good year for 35-year-old chauffeur Bharat Jadhav.

Getting people about in Mumbai's crazy traffic is a real skill

He is a secondary school graduate, which means he left school with a basic education at the age of 15.

Finding a well paying job was tough a decade ago when he first arrived in Mumbai - jobs for people with his qualifications were few and far between.

Even if you did eventually find a job, it tended to be some form of menial labour, with minimal wages.

Bharat managed to get a job as a driver - but even then, the salary at that time wasn't enough to make ends meet.

But thanks to the boom in the economy over the last ten years, Bharat is now making more than $150 a month.

"You can make good money now in Mumbai as a driver - although the salary does depend on the boss," he says as he washes his car.

"My wages have gone up every year by over $100 - that's almost a 20% jump annually."

That is because there is a real shortage of personal chauffeurs in Mumbai.

And vacancies have multiplied - as a result of more executives taking up posts in the city who need someone reliable to drive them around in Mumbai's mad traffic to and from their meetings.

Some drivers can command almost $300 a month if they speak some English. That is just a little bit lower than starting salaries of entry-level call centre workers outside of Mumbai.

Talking head

It is not just drivers in India who are seeing their salaries soar - some of the country's worst paid professionals are also seeing a boost in their pay packets.

Journalism has never been one of the best paid jobs - in India or otherwise.

Even up until last year, many senior print journalists in India for prestigious newspapers or websites were not taking home more than $1,000 a month.

Standing up and speaking into a camera is not an easy job

But for Taneia Bhardwaj, a senior correspondent at one of India's newest television channels, UTVi, money is no longer so much of an issue.

Taneia spends most of her days zipping from one press conference to another, interviewing folks from all walks of life. It's a tiring job - but she is not complaining.

"If you were to compare what I made say four years ago, to what I make now then I probably make six times the amount I used to!" Taneia explains in between getting sound bites at a press conference.

"Media has really picked up in India - and there's a whole slew of new channels that have come up.

"There are only so many people who are trained in the medium, and who can do the job of being a journalist and being on television well - so there's a lot of demand for good, strong talent."

Making hay

A dearth of talent is one of the main reasons why salaries have gone through the roof in India.

And it is jobs in the real estate sector that are bringing home the biggest bucks, according to a recent survey on salaries in India by Hewitt.

It said that on average wages in India's real estate sector have jumped some 25% - beating the average rise in salaries across the country and industries, which came in at 15%.

The shortage of skills means people can change career easily

The main reason salaries in the real estate sector have taken off is because of the boom in India's property market.

Property prices have soared in India - some 40% in the last year - as newly rich Indians look for a home for their families or some real estate to buy as an investment.

As a result, young professionals like Viral Desai have reaped the benefits of this boom.

The 28-year-old property consultant has seen his salary double - despite the fact that before this job he had never worked in real estate.

Previously he was a manager in a call centre - but was hired because of his enthusiasm for the property sector, and his attention to detail.

"Make hay while the sun shines I say! I've seen salaries jump more than 50% in the real estate sector," Viral says.

"Now more people can buy houses thanks to these higher salaries, buy a car - all of this was not possible some time back - so as a result of everyone making more money, the standard of living has also increased."

Hire and fire

Currently, there is an unprecedented demand for skilled workers in India.

Property consultancy Knight Frank, where Viral works, needs to fill two or three vacancies every single week as they try to keep up with demand and keep their operations running.

"Do you know sometimes I have to turn down transactions?," Pranay Vakil, the chairman of Knight Frank in India says.

"I am willing to train new people, and fresh graduates - and even though I may spend money on their training, and then they may leave me, it's worth it - because at least I will keep the business running for that time."

A government office in India.
The lure of a government office job is no longer as strong as it was

The Indian operations of Knight Frank have grown substantially in the last year - and as a result the salaries of young employees at the firm have as well.

New graduates used to earn some $10,000 a year - but now no one will accept anything less than $20,000.

But these higher salaries may also come at a high price.

"I think what the higher salaries are going to bring about is hire-and-fire laws," says Pranay Vakil.

"When you are paying or overpaying someone, then you won't live with any nonsense - you'll look for the alternatives.

"There's a new culture that's emerging and the patience is kind of running out with people who don't perform up to the expectations of employers."

Shifting perspectives

This new attitude can been seen in the cultural change taking place in offices across India.

For decades after India's independence, the ideal job was one in a government office - a secure position that was guaranteed for life.

Granted, the downside was you may not make very much money, and certainly owning a house would not become a reality until you hit your late forties. But you would always have a job.

All of that changed when India's economy opened up in the 1990s and competition entered the Indian workplace.

Western ways of working were adopted by Indian staff, and with them came the desire for Western goods and Western-style salaries.

Indian wages are surging as a result, and while that may rake in huge rewards for employees, the risks could be just as great.

India Business Report is broadcast repeatedly every Sunday on BBC World.

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