Big competition for low-end Indian jobs

An Indian coolie, center, carries luggage on his head as commuters crowd an overbridge at New Delhi railway station.

TEXT OF STORY

Steve Chiotakis: India lost 10 million jobs in the
country's recession last year. But even though the economy's rebounding fast, there are still too few jobs for the country's unemployed.

Raymond Thibodeaux reports from New Delhi,
competition in the job market's tough.


Raymond Thibodeaux: Delhi's main railway station is always packed with people. Travelers rush to catch their trains, usually trailed by porters that they've hired to carry their luggage. Outside, a husband and wife haggle with one of the porters, better known here as coolies.

Coolie haggling

The haggling ends and a coolie named Gabaru Khan lifts two overstuffed suitcases onto his head. He sets off for the train platform with the family. Khan says he has a master's degree in Sanskrit. He wanted to be a teacher, but he ended up a coolie.

S.K. Sharma is a commercial inspector at this station. He says there are more and more people like Khan in India who can't find the white-collar jobs they dreamed of, and have to apply for menial jobs.

S.K. SHARMA: There are so many people who have no employment that this is the best course to get employment.

Sharma says many of India's 100,000 licensed coolies were drawn to the job because it pays as much as $300 a month, well above India's average of $60 a month. And it comes with benefits like free medical care and free rail transport.

SHARMA: These days, more highly educated people are taking this job.

India's railway system gets at least 30 applications for every coolie job it advertises. And the selection process isn't easy. There's a medical exam, a police background check, and a test to show they can carry nearly 90 pounds on their heads for the length of two football fields. And they must attend courtesy training classes like this one to learn how to deal with foreigners.

Anant Swarup is spokesman for India's northern railways. He says many coolies are from India's rural areas.

Anant Swarup: Most of your GDP growth comes from services. So it is but natural that there is a general shift from agriculture to services. And being a licensed porter is also part of service.

That is, if you get the job. Still, he says, being a coolie for India's railways offers one thing many Indians don't often find in the private sector these days: job security.

In New Delhi, I'm Raymond Thibodeaux for Marketplace.

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