In modern society there is a systematic and substantial devaluing of care work. This type of work has traditionally been seen as “women’s work” and has been usually done without the thought of pecuniary reimbursement. Raising children, keeping house, looking after elderly parents or parents in law, have all traditionally fallen to women to do for free in the past.These tasks in contemporary society both on the micro and macro levels have been systematically devalued because they are not directly related to income generation or economic development. However, The only way our capitalist system can function is if there is someone out there willing to do this care work.
This necessity is seen quite clearly in the rise of domestic work being a key labour trend in migrant workers. With the advent of the dual income family there has been the rise of cheap domestic labour traveling across borders to do the care work of those who now have ‘more important’ things to do. Even when care work is bought and sold in the capitalist system it is still not valued. In many (if not most) countries where foreign domestic workers are employed it does not count as real work – and is therefore not covered by labour laws. The vast majority of domestic workers are not entitled to a single day off, nor do they receive sick leave or health benefits. The immigration status of foreign domestic workers is also difficult. The visas they are brought into receiving countries under are often strictly conditional. Domestic workers are usually not entitled to public health care or other public services open to other residents of a country. Many countries force domestic workers to undergo periodic pregnancy and HIV tests and expel them if they test positive.
Coming from southeast asia I have first hand knowledge of how domestic workers are perceived in places like Singapore and Malaysia. They are treated almost as sub-human. Many employers will not allow domestic workers to use the phone (or even their own cell phone), have their own bedroom or any private time or space. Usually this treatment is founded on the idea that if an employer does not strictly control a domestic worker she will either get lazy or run away and get pregnant.
The position of domestic workers, inside a household with no legal labour protections and even more uncertain immigration status makes domestic workers vulnerable on a number of fronts. Often employers hold domestic workers passports, under the pretense of keeping them safe, usually it is to ensure domestic workers do not run away. This leaves them open to many types of abuse, including sexual and physical, and a situation they cannot leave without being deported or arrested. Everyone in Asia probably knows of a horror story involving a domestic worker – one where she was raped or beaten or tortured in some way.
Domestic workers are workers. That is important. They provide a service for you. You aren’t doing them a favor, they don’t owe you anything other than to provide that service. More importantly though domestic workers are human beings and should be accorded the rights and respect of any other.