According to the statistics of the International Labour Organisation, paid domestic work is currently performed by at least 52 million individuals. However, this number may reach up to 100 million individuals, and the vast majority of them, around 92%, are women. Why is the demand for housekeepers and nannies so high in the Western world today?
An increasing number of women have jobs. In parallel, there is a lack of public facilities for children. The number of single mothers who do not have any other option but work is on the rise, as well. In addition, grandparents who used to help out with upbringing now work themselves or just lead their own active life. Pressure on work performance generally intensifies and ideas about active free time change, too – families no longer want to spend it taking care of the household. All these factors create a favourable environment for an increased demand for domestic workers.
Paid household work is most often performed by female migrants (despite the fact that Czech women make their living as helpers in Czech households, too). Many women from the South / East go to the North / West to fill job vacancies there. Due to their departure abroad, however, care for their children or seniors must be provided by someone else – be it from the family or someone hired for money earned abroad. A global chain of care thus emerges in the world.
Emigration is linked to many negative as well as potentially positive aspects. Most migrants of course earn money with one fixed idea: to send at least a part of it to the family which stayed in the home country. The amounts crossing borders of states this way are not negligible. The precise volume of these remittances cannot be established, but specialists estimate up to 300 billion USD streaming into less developed countries. This is twice as much as the development aid provided to these countries by governments of economically advanced countries.
With every leaving qualified individual the country not only loses valuable labour force and its investment into education; this phenomenon in particular promotes future social problems. The family may benefit financially from a long-term residence of one or even both parents abroad, but it may have a severe negative impact on their adolescent children who very often grow up without due supervision, care and upbringing. In this vein, specialists term them social orphans – at best they are taken care of by their grandparents, at worst they end up on the street or in children´s homes. In this sense the position of female migrants is much more complicated than that of men in whose case emigration for the purpose of family support is perceived predominantly well by the broader society. Female migrants are perceived as bad mothers failing in their primary role of carers.
Female migrants working in households are extremely vulnerable
Household work has many specifics. In particular, it continues to be overlooked and underrated because it was long considered “traditionally female”, unpaid work. On the one hand, this work is a public activity; on the other hand it is performed in a private space. This means that despite the fact that working conditions are stipulated by law, their inspection and law enforcement in practice are very difficult. Typical examples are unpaid extra hours. Failure to comply with working conditions, humiliation, social isolation, physical and psychological violence are the risks women employed in households face. However, the risks described above are not the major stumbling block. The difficulties lie in very limited opportunities for women to defend themselves should such risks materialize. In this vein, the situation of irregular migrants proves to be the most difficult one to control.
Irregular female migrants living and working in one family have very limited opportunities to negotiate better working conditions. However, women with a residence permit also often fear to speak up. The residence is not only in the Czech Republic tied to one employer and if they lose them, they have at best two months to find a new work and arrange all necessary documents. Otherwise, they must go back. Obviously, if their whole family, the education and future of their children depend on their income, they are willing to make various “concessions”.
Situation in the Czech Republic
Czech society has become wealthier with living standards of Czechs coming closer to those in countries in the West. However, the offer of services has not grown at the same speed as the demand for them – having a nanny or cleaner continues to be rather unusual, which does not make it easy to find one. Services of this kind are offered by specialized agencies bringing the more affluent clients nannies from the Philippines who live in their homes, do the cleaning and are in charge of children´s upbringing in English. At the same time, they comply with privacy requirements due to the language barrier and do not disclose private information outside the family circle. In the Czech Republic, care work is thus performed both by Czechs and increasingly by migrants, too. Summary data on the number and countries of origin of foreign national women working in Czech households is still missing, but almost every foreign national woman has apparently performed some kind of work in an employer´s household – especially at the beginning of her life in the Czech Republic. Despite the fact that employment in an employer´s household is not by far a marginal topic, it continues to be overlooked e.g. by the Czech government, policy makers and trade unions.
A major milestone concerning the approach to paid work in an employer´s household was the Convention concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers adopted by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in June 2011. The countries which will ratify the Convention will have to safeguard compliance with basic labour standards also in this area of informal economy. The Czech government has taken the Convention formally into account, but rejected its submission for ratification. It declared not to be concerned with this phenomenon which was thus not relevant for us. The government then based its statement on incomplete statistics which indicated only 49 individuals working in employer´s households. However, the Convention itself also has limitations – it does not concern those working based on a trade licence or without documents.
Watch our final conference on videos: