Here you will find information on the issue of domestic work in the Czech Republic and worldwide
In the year 2013 we were facing a decision about how to attract public attention to the issue of paid domestic work and the situation of female migrants who often carry it out. The whole team, made up of advertising agency representatives, members of NGOs, and female academics, had different ideas about how to do it. After long meetings, and numerous proposals, visions and their realizations, Foreign Housekeepers (Cizinky na úklid) was created – an agency that will provide you with the most suitable domestic worker cheaply, discreetly and without unnecessary paperwork.
On 24th September 2013, the promotional campaign began as the agency was to be launched in three weeks. A 15% discount was offered for those who signed up in the run-up to the launch. The TV host Kateřina Kristelová lent her face to the campaign, which she publicly supported and promoted. During the course of the three weeks, more than 21,000 people visited the Foreign Housekeeper website and 164 people signed up to find domestic workers for their households. The agency was talked about in the media and Facebook discussions were very lively too. On 15th October, instead of being launched, the non-existence of the agency as well as the organizers' intentions were revealed.
The aim of the campaign is to show that domestic work is work like any other. The same rules apply, including the Labour Code. In reality, domestic work is often undervalued and underpaid. This is why we appeal through the campaign to the families that employ a domestic worker to treat them fairly. With this intention in mind, we have put together The Ten Commandments for Fair Employers (both male and female).
Foreign Housekeeper served as a fictitious agency that was intended to provoke a broad public discussion about the issue, which has not been really visible so far. The agency was based on first-hand experiences of the working women and presented exactly what happens or can happen in real households, including Czech ones. The core of the campaign was descriptions of women, who were being put on offer as de facto inanimate goods: no name, good for this or that, depending on the employer's needs at the moment. We based the texts on existing research, including the interviews that have been carried out as part of the on-going research for the project. The whole of the research will be presented at the beginning of next year.
What does the Foreign Housekeeper website and first-hand experience tell us about paid domestic work and its risks?
Helps with whatever is needed (even beyond the employment contract)
/No. 11: A calm hand – skillful and quiet. You will barely notice her at home and your house will be spotlessly clean. She will sleep anywhere, does not need much and is always ready to help you with whatever is needed at the moment./
A job title that does not correspond with what is actually done as well as a workload that does not match – this is something many female workers have experienced. According to the Aliens Act, however, migrants can do only the kind of work for which they have a work permit.
“I've been doing the cleaning and looking after children. It's been more about the cleaning though... After I've cleaned their flat and their other houses, I teach English to the children and do homework with them.”
Maria, housekeeper and nanny, officially employed as a secretary
“The drawback is that the work is unlimited. There is no limit to work hours (and obviously, it is not polite to refuse when they tell you to do something).”
Shanti, a woman from the Philippines, working as a live-in domestic worker in the CR
Beyond the employment contract
/No. 13: Quiet, discreet and loyal. She has a lot of siblings in her home country, so she is used to helping children of all ages and performing any tasks./
Domestic work is hard to define in terms of both content and execution. What frequently happens is that employers require a lot more tasks to be done than what is agreed in the contract. In case no contract has been signed, enforcing what might be required becomes more difficult (on both sides). Moreover, female migrants often have to face various stereotypes and clichés, which is proved by the following quotation:
“I don't consider cleaning the windows every month a common cleaning task. I do the cleaning every day and they (the children of the person being cared for) come and tell me the cellar needs cleaning. That's not included in my contract... Once, it came into the old man's mind that some of his money is missing. He started yelling at me that I'm a thief from Ukraine. ‘This lot are not to be trusted’, he says. His daughter and I searched the whole flat and found the money in the bathroom. He's forgotten all about the incident because he's ill, but I find it unpleasant that he's called me a dirty Ukrainian.”
Svetlana, elderly carer from Ukraine
Always at your service
/No. 5: A hard worker. She is still learning Czech but does all the housework immaculately. Discreet and loyal. Tireless and at your service 24/7./
Particularly women who live where they work (or “live-in domestic workers”) and look after small children are perceived as being available 24/7. Live-in domestic workers usually work for 12–16 hours a day, excluding Sundays.
Women holding a trade licence have more freedom in this because they are more likely to be able to choose how many households and how much work they can handle.
“The first three months were really weird for me. I was nervous every day – for example, because I'd never changed diapers before. I was looking after a 4-month baby and his parents really worked a lot. Although I have a child of my own, my sister takes care of it... It was hard but I've got used to it. I'm grateful to my employers for this too, they're very nice and open people... I live with the family for which I work, which means I have to wake up whenever the baby does. I do have privacy though; I've got a room of my own. You know, when you work and live in the same house, you have to work all day. I work from 7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.”
Cristina, nanny and housekeeper from the Philippines
No overtime pay
/No. 9: A diligent and discreet hand for a busy family. She will do whatever you desire with no extra pay. You will finally have some time for yourself./
Although domestic workers work for much longer hours than agreed on or included in the contract, their overtime is rarely paid. Live-in housekeepers and nannies work for double the standard number of 40 hours a week. This, however, also applies to women who work for more families at once.
“I'd attended a teacher-training college but I couldn't find a job anyway. Eventually I started to work as a house cleaner. I obtained a trade licence and thought I was more independent. However, it's not as simple as I thought. Some people give me regular cleaning tasks, others have weird requirements. This one time I spent the whole day cleaning just the kitchen. I cleaned everything from glasses to tiles, but it just wasn’t clean enough for them, so I worked for two more hours for no extra pay. It's hard work. My back and my arms hurt.”
Nina from Ukraine, working as a house cleaner
Lack of privacy
/No. 3: She might seem a bit strict, but she has a heart of gold. Ideal for child-minding or elderly care. She is not demanding, can sleep anywhere and will not be in your way./
Some live-in housekeepers, nannies and nurses face a lack of privacy and limited possibilities of rest. This applies to holiday and sick leave as well. At the same time, they may find themselves isolated from society, especially when they live in a town or a village.
“The room in which I live is shared. It has a private toilet, though! I'm really happy about this... When I want to change my clothes or when I just don't want them to see me sitting and having a rest in the room, I lock myself in the toilet, sit down and spend some time alone – mostly in the evening. Nobody can see what I'm doing and they can't check up on me and tell me they need something or give me some more work.”
Shanti, a woman from the Philippines, working as a live-in domestic worker in the CR
“The hard thing about the job is that I live in the household. I don't have a life of my own. I can't invite my friends over; my employers don't wish me to. I don't get to go out much either, so I'm really lonely sometimes.”
Svetlana, elderly carer from Ukraine
Any agreement possible
/No. 12: All-rounder. Handles all female as well as male housework. Very flexible, any agreement possible./
Residence in the Czech Republic is tied to one particular employer (and a specific job), which catches many female migrants in a trap when their rights and working conditions are being violated. Particularly when their families are dependent on their pay, female migrants are willing to make various concessions.
“My previous employers thought that if they'd hire a Ukrainian, she'd work like a slave. I couldn't take any holiday; they didn't keep to the contract. When I wanted to complain, they retorted that as a Ukrainian, I should have been glad I was living in a “civilized world”. Me – who comes from Lviv! If I lost my job, I'd be in big trouble. I'd have to find a new one really fast. If I didn't find it, I'd lose my residence permit. In the current economic crisis, it is hard to find a job for the Czechs, let alone for a foreigner. My family back in Ukraine wait for the money I send them. I'm a widow, so I'm responsible for all of them. That's why I don't want to lose my job; I prefer to come to an agreement with my employers.
Natalia, elderly carer from Ukraine
Gift for the wife
/No.10: Charmingly crazy, hard-working, and fast. She doesn't need any prodding; she always knows what needs to be done in the house. Is your wife too busy to do housework and are you at a loss as to what to buy her for your anniversary? This girl will be the perfect gift./
Employers often do not think of domestic workers as employees – they do not realize that the law guarantees domestic workers the same rights as they have in their jobs. This can be demonstrated by the following employers' statements:
“I got Nina as a gift from my husband. He works late hours every day and I'm alone in a huge house. I take the children to school and kindergarten; I don't have time for that. It's helped me a lot; now I have time for myself.”
“It was too much for me, especially when we moved outside Prague. Having a big house is great, but who will clean it? I barely see my husband. One day he came and said he had a gift for me. Guess who it was! Oxana!”
Mother of three
/No. 6: Handy and experienced; suitable for work with children. She is a mother of three herself and a former teacher. Besides cleaning, she can help children with their homework. She will take care of anything needed, just say the word./
Domestic work, and looking after children in particular, are emotionally demanding. You have to deal with jealousy in the family and care of your own children who often stay in the country of origin.
“The hardest thing about this is being without my daughter for so many years... The first three years were the worst; I had to work really hard. I ate very little to save money so that my daughter could come to me. Not seeing my child was very difficult. I didn't see her growing up or on her first school day. On 1st September I had a nervous breakdown because I wasn't with my daughter on that day. I sent her all school supplies for the first year. She had everything – the best clothes, the best supplies – but I wasn't with her.”
Olena, nanny and cleaner from Ukraine
- Read the final press release about the research
- Read the outcomes of the project - campaign, problems of domestic work and stories of female migrants
- Publictaion on reserach outcomes
- Publication on Campaign and Recommendations for politicians and employers - in Czech
Watch our final conference on videos:
- Představení projektu Rovné šance na prahu českých domácností (Magda Faltová, SIMI)
- Decent Work for Domestic Workers: Transnational organizing and the ILo convention 189 (Lisa-Marie Heimeshoff, University of Kassel)