Working in somebody else’s household. Who does that and on what conditions?
When she came to the Czech Republic, Nina started to look for a job. She used to work in a restaurant kitchen first but then she started to clean in different households. She got a trade licence and thought that she would have more freedom from then on. “But it was not as easy as I thought…”, says Nina about her situation. She left her baby daughter with her relatives in Ukraine. The number of such cases in Czech households has been steadily increasing.
According to the statistics of the International Labour Organization, there are currently at least 52 million but possibly as many as 100 million domestic workers in the world, most of them women. The demand for paid housekeepers, nannies and cleaning ladies has been increasing. A number of women in the Western world spend less and less time taking care of their households and the Czech Republic is quickly catching up on this trend.
It is mostly female migrants who work as paid domestic workers. Unqualified domestic work is often the only way for women from developing countries to support their own families, even though it often leads to a paradoxical situation. They bring up other people’s children but they get to see their own children only a couple times a year. “I do try to love this little boy and he often comes and cuddles up to me. He feels that I love him. But his mother becomes jealous sometimes. She told me that I shouldn’t become so close with him. But it’s quite difficult when she’s at work all day. I saw a nice little coat in a shop somewhere the other day and I wanted to give it to my daughter for Christmas. But I didn’t even know what size she had. I had to call home and ask. I haven’t seen her in half a year.” Another story from Ukraine, this time from a 32 year old Oxana.
The job of a domestic worker brings about many particularities which can become potentially dangerous for women. First and foremost, this work is still largely overlooked and underestimated. It was considered a “traditionally women” and unpaid work for a long time. It is work which is on the one hand a public activity but on the other hand takes place in a private place. This means that even though the working conditions are given by the law, their practical control and enforceability is quite difficult. Not complying with working conditions, humiliation, social isolation but also physical and psychological violence are only some of the risks that domestic workers are exposed to. When these things do actually happen, migrant women usually have only limited possibilities how to protect themselves.
Several non-governmental organizations, such as the Association for integration and migration (SIMI) and People in need (Člověk v tísni), deal with the situation of female migrants working in households. Thanks to the Female migrants working in Czech households (Pracovnice v domácnosti) project, you can read the stories of other working women. At the project webpage you can also find other materials about paid household work and migration. These pages are meant for the female migrants themselves as well because they can find useful information about the rights and responsibilities of domestic workers there. They also offer a free legal and social consultancy.