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Domestic worker

A domestic worker is someone 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.

The conditions faced by domestic workers vary widely throughout history and 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.

Contents

History

A Han Dynasty (202 BC - 220 AD) Chinese ceramic figurine of a lady servant making a respectful gesture with both hands in front, covered in long silk sleeves

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.

Prior to the labour reforms of the 20th century, servants, and workers in general, had no protection in law. The only real advantage that service provided was the provision of meals and accommodation, and sometimes clothes, in addition to the modest wage. Also, service was an apprentice system; there was 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.

Current situation around the world

Aristocrat from Bandoeng with a servant sitting on the floor, Dutch East Indies, 1870s.

Throughout the world, most domestic workers are from the same country in which they work.[citation needed] They may live at home, though they are usually "live-in" domestics, meaning they receive room and board as part of their salaries. 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.

'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.' [1]

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.[citation needed]

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 Labour Relations Act.[2] Traditionally domestic workers have mostly been women and are likely to be immigrants.[3]

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 run into the hundreds of thousands. There are at least one million domestic workers in Saudi Arabia.

Major sources of domestic workers include the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, India, 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.

Uniform

Employers may require their domestic workers to wear a uniform or other "domestic workers' clothes" when in their employers' home. The uniform is usually simple, and was even back in the 19th century and 20th century. Female servants would wear long, plain, dark-coloured dresses or a black skirt with a white belt and a white blouse or shirt, and black high-heeled shoes, and male servants and butlers would wear something from a simple suit, down to a white shirt, often with tie, and knickers. In traditional portrayals, the attire of male servants especially is typically more formal and more conservative, than that of those whom they serve. For example, in films of the early 20th century, a butler may appear in a tailcoat, while male family members and guests will appear in ordinary suits. In later portrayals, the employer and guests may wear casual slacks or even jeans, while the servant wears a jacket and tie.

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.

Notable domestic workers

A poster of an American maid in uniform (ca. 1939).

Real People

Fictional Characters

Different domestic worker jobs

See also

References

  1. ^ Verfürth, Eva-Maria (N.D.). "Hard work new opportunities". D+C Development and Cooperation No. 09 2009. http://www.inwent.org/ez/articles/156165/index.en.shtml. Retrieved 2009-01-10. 
  2. ^ See the UN Human Rights Committee's report, "Domestic Workers' Rights in the United States."
  3. ^ Graff, Daniel A. (N.D.). "Domestic Work and Workers". The Electronic Encyclopedia of Chicago. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/386.html. Retrieved 2009-08-31. 

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