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Servant (domestic)

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Servant (domestic)

"Servant" redirects here. For other uses, see Servant (disambiguation).

A domestic worker is a person who works within the employer's household. Domestic workers perform a variety of household services for an individual or a family, from providing care for children and elderly dependents to cleaning and household maintenance, known as housekeeping. Responsibilities may also include cooking, doing laundry and ironing, food shopping and other household errands. Some domestic workers live within the household where they work. At its 301st Session (March 2008), the ILO Governing Body agreed to place an item on decent work for domestic workers on the agenda of the 99th Session of the International Labour Conference (2010) with a view to the setting of labour standards.[1] The conditions faced by domestic workers have varied considerably throughout history and in the contemporary world. In the course of twentieth-century movements for labour rights, women's rights and immigrant rights, the conditions faced by domestic workers and the problems specific to their class of employment have come to the fore. In 2011, the International Labour Organization adopted the Convention Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers which covers decent work conditions for domestic workers. Recent ILO estimates based on national surveys and/or censuses of 117 countries, place the number of domestic workers at around 53 million. But the ILO itself states that "experts say that due to the fact that this kind of work is often hidden and unregistered, the total number of domestic workers could be as high as 100 million". The ILO also states that 83% of domestic workers are women and many are migrant workers.

Servant is an older English word for "domestic worker", though not all servants worked inside the home.

History

Domestic service, or the employment of people for wages in their employer's residence, was sometimes simply called "service". It evolved into a hierarchical system in various countries at various times.

The United Kingdom's Master and Servant Act 1823 was the first of its kind and influenced the creation of domestic service laws in other nations, although legislation tended to favour employers. However, before the passing of such Acts servants, and workers in general, had no protection in law. The only real advantage that domestic service provided was the provision of meals, accommodation, and sometimes clothes, in addition to a modest wage. Service was normally an apprentice system with room for advancement through the ranks.

In Britain this system peaked towards the close of the Victorian era, perhaps reaching its most complicated and rigidly structured state during the Edwardian period, which reflected the limited social mobility of the time. The equivalent in the United States was the Gilded Age.

Different domestic worker jobs

Accommodation

Many domestic workers are live-in domestics. Though they often have their own quarters, their accommodations are not usually as comfortable as those reserved for the family members. In some cases, they sleep in the kitchen or small rooms, such as a box room, sometimes located in the basement or attic. Employers may require their domestic workers to wear a uniform, livery or other "domestic workers' clothes" when in their employers' residence. The uniform is usually simple, and was even in the 19th century and 20th centuries. Female servants wore long, plain, dark-coloured dresses or black skirts with white belts and white blouses, and black shoes, and male servants and butlers would wear something from a simple suit, or a white dress shirt, often with tie, and knickers. In traditional portrayals, the attire of domestic workers especially was typically more formal and conservative than that of those whom they serve. For example, in films of the early 20th century, a butler might appear in a tailcoat, while male family members and guests appeared in lounge suits or sports jackets and trousers depending on the occasion. In later portrayals, the employer and guests might wear casual slacks or even jeans, while a male domestic worker wore a jacket and tie or a white dress shirt with black pants, necktie or bowtie, maybe even waistcoat, or a female domestic worker either a blouse and skirt (or trousers) or a uniform.

Current situation around the world

Domestic workers may live at home, though they are usually "live-in" domestics, meaning they receive room and board as part of their salaries. In some countries, because of the large gap between urban and rural incomes, and the lack of employment opportunities in the countryside, even an ordinary middle class urban family can afford to employ a full-time live-in servant. The majority of domestic workers in China, Mexico, India, and other populous developing countries, are people from the rural areas who are employed by urban families. America’s domestic home help workers, most of them female minorities, earn low wages and often receive no retirement or health benefits because they lack basic labor protections, according to a first-of-its-kind survey of more than 2,000 domestic workers in 14 American cities. The report from the National Domestic Workers Alliance and affiliated groups found that nearly a quarter of nannies, caregivers, and home health workers make less than the minimum wage in the states in which they work, and nearly half – 48 percent – are paid less than needed to adequately support a family.[2]

In Guatemala, it is estimated that eight percent of all women work as domestic workers. They hardly have any legal protection. According to Guatemalan labour law, domestic work is “subject neither to a working time statute nor to regulations on the maximum number of working hours in a day”. Legally, domestic helpers are only entitled to ten hours of free time in 24 hours, and one day off per week. But very often, these minimal employment laws are disregarded, and so are basic civil liberties.[3]

In Brazil, domestic workers must be hired under a registered contract and have most of the rights of any other workers, which includes a minimum wage, remunerated vacations and a remunerated weekly day off. It is not uncommon, however, to hire servants without registering them. Since servants come almost always from the lower, uneducated classes, they are sometimes ignorant of their rights, especially in the rural zone. Nevertheless, domestics employed without a proper contract sometimes sue their employers to get compensation from abuses.

In India, domestic workers are known as maidservants, manservants, drivers and cooks.

In the United States, domestic workers are excluded from many of the legal protections afforded to other classes of worker, including the provisions of the National Labor Relations Act.[4] Traditionally domestic workers have mostly been women and are likely to be immigrants.[5] A California bill formerly known as AB 889 nearly offered legal protections including mandatory overtime pay and breaks but was vetoed in September 2012 by Gov. Jerry Brown.[6]

In July 2011, at the annual International Labour Conference, held by the ILO, conference delegates adopted the Convention on Domestic Workers by a vote of 396 to 16, with 63 abstentions. The Convention recognizes domestic workers as workers with the same rights as other workers. On 26 April 2012, Uruguay was the first country to ratify the convention.[7] [8]

Child domestic workers

The use of children as domestic servants continues to be common in parts of the world, such as Latin America or parts of Asia. Such children are very vulnerable to exploitation: often they are not allowed to take breaks or are required to work long hours; many suffer from a lack of access to education, which can contribute to social isolation and a lack of future opportunity. UNICEF considers domestic work to be among the lowest status, and reports that most child domestic workers are live-in workers and are under the round-the-clock control of their employers.[9] Some estimates suggest that among girls, domestic work is the most common form of employment.[10] Child domestic work is common in countries such as Bangladesh or Pakistan.[11][12] It has been estimated that globally, at least 10 million children work in domestic labor jobs.[12]

Domestic work and international migration

Many countries import domestic workers from abroad, usually poorer countries, through recruitment agencies and brokers because their own nationals are no longer obliged or inclined to do domestic work. This includes most Middle Eastern countries, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan. For most of these countries, the number of domestic workers runs into the hundreds of thousands. There are at least one million domestic workers in Saudi Arabia under the kafala system.

Major sources of domestic workers include Thailand, Indonesia, India, Philippines, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Ethiopia. Taiwan also imports domestic workers from Vietnam and Mongolia. Organizations such as Kalayaan support the growing number of these migrant domestic workers.

The migration of domestic workers can lead to several different effects both on the countries that are sending workers abroad and countries that are receiving domestic workers from abroad. One particular relationship between countries sending workers and countries receiving workers is that the sending country can be filling gaps in labor shortages of the receiving country.[13] This relationship can be potentially beneficial for both countries involved because the demand for labor is being met and fulfilled by workers’ demand for jobs. This relationship however can prove to be quite complicated and not always beneficial. When unemployment in a receiving country rises migrant domestic workers are not only no longer needed but their presence can be detrimental to domestic workers of that country.[13]

When international migration began to flourish the assumed migrant worker was typically considered to be a man. What studies are now starting to show is that women are dominating large numbers of the international migration patterns by taking up large percentages of domestic workers that leave their home country in search for work as a domestic laborer in another country.[14]

Women who migrate to take up work as domestic workers are motivated by different reasons and migrate to a variety of different outcomes. While for many women, domestic work abroad is the only opportunity to find work and provide an income for their families, domestic labor is a market they are forced to enter due to blocked mobility in their homelands.[15] Additionally, migrant domestic workers often have to face the stress of leaving family members behind in their home countries while they take up work abroad. Upward mobility is particularly difficult for migrant domestic workers because their opportunities are often limited by their illegal status putting a very definite limitation on the work that is available to them as well as their power to negotiate with employers [16]

Social effects of domestic work

As women currently dominate the domestic labor market throughout the world, they have learned to navigate the system of domestic work both in their own countries and abroad in order to maximize the benefits entering the domestic labor market can bring them. Women’s ability to find a place in the workforce through their roles as domestic workers has proven to have both its advantages and its limitations.

Among the disadvantages of working as a domestic worker is the fact that women working in this sector are working in an area often regarded as a private sphere.[17] Working in this private sphere can prove to be divisive for women as the type of work may not allow them to develop unity among other women workers. Feminist critics of women working in the domestic sphere argue that this woman dominated market is reinforcing gender inequalities by potentially creating mistress-servant relationships between domestic workers and their employers and continuing to put women in a position of lesser power.[17] More criticism points out that working in a privatized sphere robs domestic workers of the enjoyment of the advantages brought by socialized work and working in the public sphere.[16]

Additionally, domestic laborers face disadvantages physically; the invisibility of their work from the public sphere has caused an ideological decline in their status and an increase in their isolation. Also, the intangible nature of their service and the speed at which it is consumed increases the dispensability and thereby decreased value of the work that they perform.[18] The level of isolation women face also depends on the type of domestic work they are involved with. Live-in nannies for example sacrifice much of their own independence and can face a difficult level of isolation that comes with living away from their own families and with a family that they are not a part of.[19]

While working in a women dominated privatized world can prove to be disadvantageous for domestic workers, many women have learned how to navigate the world of domestic labor and have been able to use and help each other move upward economically. In trying to break into the sphere of domestic work women find that informal networks of friends and families are the most successful and commonly used ways of finding and securing jobs.[20] These informal networks prove that although they are working in a very privatized and isolated occupation they still have the ability to connect with other workers and create social networks that will help support them.

Without the security of legal protection, many women who work without papers are vulnerable to abuse. Some have to perform tasks considered degrading showing a manifestation of employer power over worker powerlessness. Employing domestic work from foreign countries can perpetuate the idea that domestic or service work is reserved for other social or racial groups and plays into the stereotype that it is work for inferior groups of people.[13]

For immigrant women first breaking into the domestic labor market can prove to be difficult. To break through many immigrant women follow the practice of subcontracting arrangements in which they subcontract their services to other more established women workers creating an important apprenticeship type of learning experience that can vault them into better and more independent opportunities in the future.[16] Women who work as domestic workers also have the advantage of internal occupation mobility. Once established they have the option of accepting jobs from multiple employers increasing their income and their experience and most importantly their ability to negotiate prices with their employers.[18]

Trends in domestic work

The domestic work industry is currently dominated throughout the world by women.[21]

While the domestic work industry is advantageous for women in that it provides them a sector that they have substantial access to, it can also prove to be disadvantageous by reinforcing gender inequality through the idea that domestic work is an industry that should be dominated by women. Within the domestic work industry the much smaller proportion of jobs that is occupied by men are not the same jobs that are typically occupied by women. Within the child care industry men make up only about 3–6% of all workers.[22] Additionally, in the child care industry men are more likely to fill roles that are not domestic in nature but administrative such as a managerial role in a day care center.[23]

While the domestic work industry was once believed to be an industry that belonged to a past type of society and did not belong in a modern world, trends are showing that although elements of the domestic work industry have been changing the industry itself has shown no signs of fading away, but only signs of transformation.[22] There are several specific causes that are credited to continuing the cycle of the demand for domestic work. One of these causes is that with more women taking up full-time jobs, a dually employed household with children places a heavy burden on parents. It is argued however that this burden wouldn't result in the demand for outside domestic help if men and women were providing equal levels of effort in domestic work and child rearing within their own home.[17]

The demand for domestic workers has also become largely fulfilled by migrant domestic workers from other countries who flock to wealthier nations to fulfill the demand for help at home.[21][24] This trend of domestic workers flowing from poorer nations to richer nations creates a relationship that on some levels encourages the liberation of one group of people at the expense of the exploitation of another.[21] Although domestic work has far from begun to fade from society, the demand for it and the people who fill that demand has changed drastically over time.

Notable domestic workers



See also

Fiction

References

Further reading

  • The Duties of Servants; by a member of the aristocracy, author of 'Manners and Rules of Good Society'. London: F. Warne & Co., 1894
  • A Few Rules for the Manners of Servants in Good Families. Ladies' Sanitary Association, 1901
  • The Servants' Practical Guide: a handbook of duties and rules; by the author of 'Manners and Tone of Good Society'. London: Frederick Warne & Co., [1880]
    • The Management of Servants: a practical guide to the routine of domestic service; by the author of “Manners and Tone of Good Society.” (the same work under a different title)
  • Dawes, Frank (1973) Not in Front of the Servants: domestic service in England 1850–1939. London: Wayland ISBN 0-85340-287-6
  • Evans, Siân (2011) Life below Stairs in the Victorian and Edwardian Country House. National Trust Books
    • --do.--"Yells, Bells and Smells ... from royal visits ... to the case of the cook and the freezer", in: National Trust Magazine; Autumn 2011, pp. 70–73

External links

  • International Domestic Workers Network
  • List of digitized books on domestic workers in German, English, and other languages at de.
  • ILO resources on domestic workers:
    Decent work for domestic workers, Report IV(1) (2010)
  • paper on the abuse of domestic workers in the Middle East
  • A Global Justice Center paper about domestic workers worldwide
  • An international campaign for domestic workers' labour rights
  • article about migrant domestic workers
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