Migrant Domestic Workers: Working Conditions Can Emulate Enslavement


NEW HAVEN: The 67 million domestic workers worldwide are the unsung heroes of globalization making the wheels of the economy turn, but increasingly the migrants among them are objects of hostility. Most domestic workers are women, according to the International Labour Organization, and 17 percent, or 11.5 million, are migrants – part of the migration phenomenon of care, triggered by a swelling middle class and globalization. These workers perform household-bound chores including cleaning and cooking, eldercare and childcare – tasks deemed unskilled by the host country and rejected by most citizens of the local population.

Stories of disempowerment and exploitation are common even in developed nations, and cross-border relationships limit ability to communicate, develop family ties and friendships, obtain legal status, or report abuses to the authorities. Countries that typically constitute a larger base of domestic workers include Singapore, Hong Kong, Israel, Canada, Denmark, United Arab Emirates and Taiwan – with significant variations in hiring practices and pay differentials.

Some workers pursue positions that promise substantial wages for their families, and others are simply vulnerable. Alex Tizon, for the Atlantic, described growing up in a Filipino family that immigrated to the United States with their unpaid servant whom they alternately described as an aunt and grandmother. For most of her life, the woman worked dawn to dusk without pay or the privacy of her own room. Tizon’s story poignantly details how informality – and discourse of domestic worker as family member – can lead to ambiguity, unprofessionalism and abuse. Precisely due to the casual boundaries of residence and employment space, domestic workers around the globe are often caught between tolerating unfair practices as “part of the family” and working for a fair and just employer.

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