CROSS MASSAGING: The Northeast employees of SNIP are forced to undertake cross massages which is banned under the Goa Spa Act which forbids massaging of men by women employees.
In her detailed study of the spa industry in Goa called ‘Tired Hands’, ANDREA WRIGHT, highlights the inhuman treatment of migrants from the Northeast by the Bhobe couple who run the SNIP chain of Spas, who have recently taken over the spa at the Bambolim Hyatt.
Excerpt from Tired Hands. Author Andrea Wright is a PhD candidate, Fulbright Scholar, and National Science Foundation Scholar in Anthropology from Brown University, USA, who is currently conducting dissertation fieldwork in Bengaluru. The North East Association Goa (NEAG) requested her to visit and conduct an independent enquiry into the working conditions of Northeast women in local salons and spas. This was in regards to a specific incident that took place in August 2016 when 13 women from the Northeast abruptly resigned from their positions as therapists at Snip Salons and Spas when one of them was scolded for refusing a late service.
While [the scolding and resignation] is only one seemingly small incident, it was the final straw in a series of disrespectful, harmful, humiliating, and exploitative labour practices at Snip. These women were tired of this treatment and decided to take action. This simple account does not do justice to the complexity of events culminating in this act of resistance.
THROUGHOUT the industry it is common to find most parlours/salons/spas staffed by individuals from the Northeast or Nepal. Training centres, however, are not concentrated in these areas (Northeastern states or Nepal), but instead in the cities where these services are most desired. This forces individuals who already face economic hardship to migrate from their homes without a training certificate or secured job. These migratory paths are very dangerous and open up ample space for exploitation.
It is not as if the police do not have good reason to suspect the industry. Perhaps, the illicit activities are not sex work, but the exploitation of the labourers (mostly women and a few men from the Northeast of India) is a factor of daily life.
According to the owners of two of the largest and most successful local salon and spa chains (Sumeet Bhobe-Snip Salons and Spas and Asha Arondekar-Tatva Elements) 80-90 per cent of their workforce are from the Northeastern states of India. If one were to break it down further, they would find that many of these individuals are Nagas, either from Manipur or Nagaland, along with a large proportion of individuals from Mizoram. These individuals are most often employed in the salons and spas as beauticians/therapists/massage therapists.
Due to their physical appearance and perceived strong work ethic, they are heavily recruited for positions in hospitality and retail. Moreover, their ‘foreign’ appearance lends them a cosmopolitan tilt. Some are even advised to lie and say that they are from Thailand or other south Asian countries. Mostly Christians, it is assumed that they have fewer qualms when dealing with the bodies of both men and women.
ON AUGUST 19, 2016, Toto, a therapist at the Snip Salons and Spas, Calangute branch, was asked to give a head massage at 8.45 pm. Working hours are from 10 am to 9 pm and taking a 45 minute head massage would mean working until after 9.30 pm. Toto objected to the service, and was joined by 12 of her colleagues in voicing their discontent with late treatments. The next day the 13 women came to work and, during a briefing, were scolded harshly by the management. They were told that they were just women from Northeast and easily replaceable.
BHAVNA, the manager, has used similar racial slurs in the past and commonly threatened to replace them with someone else from Northeast since there are so many desperate people from there looking for jobs. She told them that if they do not want to work properly then they should go ahead and give their resignation. Before this incident they had been shown an entry by Archana Bhobe in the black book (there is one book in which the workers and owners/management can write their comments, complaints, or requests) stating that if anyone refuses to take a late service they should give their resignations or their salary will be deducted `5000. Archana had also sent an email saying that if any therapist refuses a late service they should resign and leave on that day itself. August 20th, was a Saturday and weekends are always the busiest times at Snip.
THE 13 women were all booked with appointments for the next two days. After the harsh scolding and threats along with the knowledge that they were supposed to resign if they did not want to do late services, the women decided to tender their resignation. They submitted a handwritten resignation letter to the management. The management pleaded with them to stay and work through the weekend, saying they could sort everything else out on Monday, but the women were adamant. It was not just the late servicing that had pushed them to resign, but a series of big and small incidents that had been building up over time. When I spoke to the women on October 16th, they clearly articulated their main grievances with Snip Salons and Spas. I will list and elaborate on these grievances below:
- Home Visits- When the women joined Snip they thought it was a safe professional business, but they soon found out they were expected to do home visits. The women were repeatedly forced to visit the homes of unknown individuals to give massage services. They were driven there, most often ALONE, to these houses and did these services. During our discussion, the women repeatedly mentioned a man named Daryl. Apparently he is a regular customer who often requests certain women to come to his home for massage. According to the women, his whole house is outfitted with cameras, except his bedroom. The bedroom is kept very dark (darker than what they keep massage rooms at Snip) and he also refuses to wear the disposable underwear that the women bring along for the service. He only allows himself to be covered with a thin sheet, not a thick towel as is normal procedure. Daryl has a reputation of being naughty (the women’s description) and they all dread these services, especially going to Daryl’s. While the women did not indicate any sexual activity with Daryl, they did say that he often asks them to go deeper, especially on his backside and into the middle of his thighs near his genitalia.
- Lack of Professional Work Environment- When the women joined Snip Salons and Spas they were not given a joining letter or contract. They are paid in cash each month and do not even receive a salary receipt. Because they are paid in cash they do not have Provident Funds, pay taxes, or have insurance. They do not even know what a provident fund is and when told that it means a deduction from their salary, of course they declined. They don’t earn enough to pay taxes so that point is moot and the insurance charges would be paid by the employer. This is obviously a means for Sumeet and Archana to spend the least amount possible on their employees and also deprive them of a safety net. There is essentially no paper or legal record that these women have worked at Snip Salons and Spas. Furthermore, Sumeet has refused to give them letters confirming their employment positions and dates at Snip. This means that when they apply for a new job they have no proof of previous employment and will likely join in an entry-level position even though some of the women have over five years experience.
- TRAININGS– The women are given trainings at Snip, but there is no consistency in the trainings and no certifications are given upon completion. Recently, the women were offered an Indonesian massage training and then had to pay `5000 to get a certificate. The certificate stated that they had been trained in Ayurvedic massage, which was untrue. Because they are not given proper certificates, there is no documentation of the actual skills they have acquired through the job. This makes it difficult for them to prove their qualifications to a possible employer and means that if they change jobs they are general re-trained as there is doubt to their actual qualifications.
- Late Payments- The employees are supposed to be paid on the 15th, but the pay is rarely on time. According to the women, the pay is given anywhere between the 15th – 20th of each month. The staff have agitated in the past to be paid on the 10th, but the management has not changed their practices. Sumeet keeps promising that they will get paid on the 10th, but every month the pay is late. They held a boycott earlier about getting paid on the 10th. For a few months they were paid on time, but then it went back to the old method of late pay. During the season (December-Jan) the women were asked to work for two to three weeks straight without an off. They were told that they could either be paid more for this work, or be given extra offs once the busy season was finished. They all opted for extra offs. Once season was finished, they tried to redeem their extra offs and were told that they could not take extra offs. If they dared to take the offs, the owner would deny that they earned extra offs and deduct their salary for being absent at work. They were not given any payment for the extra days they worked and were denied their hard earned time off.
- CROSS-MASSAGE– I spoke to the women about cross-massage. They do not like doing cross-massages as they sometimes feel vulnerable and scared. None of them have ever had experiences with women misbehaving during a massage, it is always the men who misbehave. They do feel worried, but if they are doing the massage at the spa, they can walk out of the room immediately and notify management. Therefore, it is not as big of a problem as home visits.
- Salary Deductions- The employees of Snip are constantly threatened with salary deductions. I requested the women to tell me in detail the myriad reasons for which their salaries had been cut. Sometimes their salaries are cut by `5000 for one misdeed. Most of them are paid a base salary of `10,000 per month. That is HALF of a month’s salary due to one small misdoing that may or may not have even been their fault. If the women miss a day of work their salary is cut. However, the method for cutting is incredibly unfair. The women are paid a commission on every service they do. The commission is 7 per cent for every procedure except for facials and that is 5 per cent. If the women miss a day of work, their total wages (salary + commission) is divided by the number of days in the month and then the amount of pay per day is deducted. The deduction for missing a day of work should be taken from the base salary, not from the commissions that the women earned for services they’ve completed. When the women complained to management about this unfair practice, they were told that if they complained again management would notify the owners and their whole monthly salary would be cut. If a client makes any complaint about the service (whether true or false) the women are blamed and their salaries are cut for the amount of the service. The management is not even willing to listen to their side of the story. The women recounted one story where a client claimed that the women had been switching therapists in the middle of a massage. The massage room is partitioned into three smaller rooms and the therapists were all giving massages there. One client was convinced that her therapist had changed, only because the girl had previously been wearing her hair down and then had it up at the end of the massage. No one bothered to ask, why the women would change therapists mid-massage in the first place. But because the client insisted, the women’s salaries were cut.
If products such as shampoo or lotion are not kept in the correct place, then their salaries will be deducted by `1000. I asked them whether they are given warnings beforehand or at least a few chances to redeem themselves from mistakes, they answered no. They are not given warnings, nor second chances. They feel like management is looking for reasons to deduct their salaries. One woman shared an example of unfair treatment and salary deduction. A client came for a one-hour foot massage, but the therapist was told by reception that the woman only wanted a 30 minute massage. At the end of the massage the client complained about how she had paid for an hour and was only given 30 minutes. The front desk asked the therapist why she only did 30 minutes and she told them that that was what she was told. Instead of admitting their mistake they deducted the charge for the remaining half an hour from her salary. Their salaries can be deducted if their uniform is not ironed nicely or their hair is not tied properly. Sometimes after vigorous work such as scrubbing the steam room or giving a massage their hair and uniform get a bit untidy. This is not their fault, but their salary is still deducted.
- No Communication or Redress with Owner- Their only communication with the owner is through the front desk and management. The management and front desk employees are accountable to the owners and they are following their orders. If the women complain about a problem, then the management and front desk employees tell them that they are not allowed to complain. It is obviously in their best interests (since they are accountable to the owners) to minimize complaints. The women also shared that if they do voice a complaint, the management can and will punish them that same day by not giving them services. They earn commission on every service, so this of course affects their salary. This behaviour closes down all paths to redress and successfully silences the women. If the women do complain the management may inform Sumeet or Archana who will then come and yell and humiliate them. All of the women told me that they had never in their life uttered a word to Sumeet or Archana as they were too scared of them and were never given the chance to even speak during meetings or briefings.
- Late Treatments- Working hours at Snip are from 10 am to 9 pm. The menu card clearly states that the last procedure is at 7.30 pm. However, management was instructed to never turn away a customer. The workers are often forced to take late services which means they are stuck at work late. When the women object, they are often coaxed into taking late services with the promise that they can come to work late the next day. However, when the women show up to work late the next day they are scolded and sometimes their salaries are deducted for being late. When the service is a cross-massage, the women feel scared and vulnerable. If the service ends at 9.30 pm or 9.45 pm everyone else has already gone home from work and they are alone in the building with the client. Furthermore, it is already dangerous to travel alone at night, and being at work late means it’s even harder to find reliable transport home. Many of the women share rickshaws or means of transport and if someone is forced to stay late, they must travel alone.
When they complain to the management they are told that they have already taken the money for the service so now it has to be done or that the client is a good friend of the owner so they MUST do the service. According to the women, this has been going on for a LONG time and this is not the first time that they have protested. Earlier, they tried to complain all together and they were given a settlement. Slowly, those individuals were fired from their jobs one by one. That is why they decided to make this complaint in a large group this time. They felt safer since there were so many complainants.
- Lack of Dignity and Respect at Work- Even though the women are trained beauty therapists, they are often made to do other types of work around the spa. They are made to scrub the steam and massage rooms, wash towels, and complete other housekeeping duties. Furthermore, when they do this work they often become sweaty and a bit messy, since they have to wear their uniforms. They are then scolded for not looking presentable or dirtying their uniform. If the clients complain that the towels are not clean or smell bad, the women are scolded, even though they are not in charge of washing the towels. The women are expected to serve tea after each service. Sometimes, however, the spa is very busy and they are immediately whisked away to their next service. In those cases they ask the housekeeping to serve the tea for them. They are then scolded for asking housekeeping to serve the tea. They are also scolded if they start a treatment late so they feel it’s a lose-lose situation. This makes them feel like management is just looking any small reason to scold them.
The women have been forced to work on clients with skin diseases that they thought might be contagious and on clients that were obviously inebriated. Since management does not turn away customers, the women were forced to engage in services that were possibly detrimental to their health and personal safety.
The women complained about not being given proper breaks to eat their food or a proper break room in which to have their meals. The inside break room is only to be used by the management and stylists. The therapists are only allowed to have water inside and are forced to store and eat their food outside. There are no benches or shade and only a few stools on which to sit. This is obviously blatant discrimination against the therapists and housekeeping staff who are forced to stand and eat their food outside while the stylists and management get to eat in the reception area or break room.
They also felt like they were treated worse than all the other staff, especially the stylists. They were not allowed to wear their own shoes into the spa. They had to physically take them off and carry them in. The stylists, however, were allowed to wear their shoes inside. They were constantly made to feel less than everyone else there, even though their work is very difficult and they always have more clients than the stylists.
- The workers should be paid by direct deposit each month on the same date, with their taxes, provident fund, and PSI deducted. They should receive proper pay stubs each month. If the employees do not have bank accounts, their employer should assist them in opening an account.
- The system for deducting absences from work is unfair and should be adjusted so that deductions are made only from base salary.
- There should be set timings for work and employees should not be expected to work beyond these timings. If one does agree to work overtime, their agreement and just compensation should be noted in writing and signed by both parties.
- Under absolutely no conditions and for no reason should employees be sent to conduct outside services. This includes services at individual residences and at beach, wedding or other types of functions.
- Employees should be given proper appointment letters and contracts upon joining. Furthermore, they should receive documentation of their employment and proper certificates for trainings they receive during that employment.
- Cross massage should be eliminated as it makes the women vulnerable to exploitation.
TIMELINE OF EVENTS
North East Association of Goa (NEAG) established.
NEAG Registered with Goa government.
Indonesian women file case against Snips Salons And Spas.
NEAG, with police assistance, rescues 16 trafficked Naga men who were forced to work in mines.
Goa Salon And Spa Association (GSSA) founded.
Tangkhul woman working at Snip commits suicide.
June 29, 2013
18 women picked up in a police raid at Riio dance club.
13 workers file complaint before the Labour Commissioner regarding working conditions At Tatva Elements Spa, Calangute.
NEAG hosts North East Festival for which Sumeet And Archana Bhobe (owners of Snip Salons and Spas) are sponsors and Archana is chief guest.
Sumeet offers office space to NEAG through former president George Longpinao.
NEAG Fete Day event for which Sumeet Bhobe is main sponsor and chief guest.
August 19, 2016
Toto (A therapist at Snip) is given client at 8:45 p.m. to which she objects.
August 20, 2016
13 women submit resignation letters at Snip Salons and Spas.
August 21st or 22
Sumeet posts in the GSSA Whatsapp group about the women’s behaviour and requests that other members do not hire them
August 23, 2016
13 women again submit a resignation letter requesting that their salaries and deposits be returned.
August 25, 2016
13 women approach NEAG.
August 26, 2016
NEAG executives visit Sumeet’s place.
August 28, 2016
NEAG comes to know that one woman (Kuri) returned to work at Snip.
August 30, 2016
12 Women submit another letter of resignation. The 12 Women along with NEAG Executives and advisors meet Sumeet And Archana.
September 10, 2016
NEAG Executives collect the women’s salaries and commissions.
September 22, 2016
NEAG executives, advisors, and the 12 women visit AITUC office and deliver letter regarding the situation.
September 28, 2016
Christopher Fonseca (AITUC) Sends letter to Sumeet.
September 29, 2016
Sumeet Calls Aghato and reminds him of everything that he had one for the NEAG and asks Why they are pursuing this case against him and continues to send WhatsApp messages.
October 2, 2016
Letter from NEAG To Director General Of Police.
October 3, 2016
A few of the women and NEAG executives and advisors meet Adv. Suhas Naik Of AITUC. Suhas Calls Sumeet’s Lawyer to set up the October 5th appointment.
October 4, 2016
NEAG general meeting regarding this incident.
October 5, 2016
Sumeet Bhobe attends a meeting with the resigned women at the AITUC office along with his lawyer and AITUC representatives. Agrees to another meeting at AITUC along with resigned women on October 8th.
October 8, 2016
Sumeet calls Adv. Suhas Naik in the morning and informs of his inability to attend the meeting.
October 8, 2016
Snip Salons And Spas sends letter to AITUC.
October 9, 2016
Women submit letter withdrawing their resignation.
Post October 9, 2016
Circular Posted in Snip Salons and Spas Regarding salary assessment and loyalty bonus.