Do­mes­tic work­ers in China’s fi­nan­cial cap­i­tal are now sub­ject to a code of con­duct, as Zhou Went­ing re­ports from Shang­hai.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CHINA -

Last month, for the first time in the lo­cal in­dus­try’s his­tory, the Shang­hai Changn­ing Dis­trict Homemak­ing Ser­vice As­so­ci­a­tion re­leased a 50-item code of con­duct for house­keep­ers and nan­nies.

The code was in­tro­duced five days af­ter a house­keeper in Hangzhou, Zhe­jiang prov­ince, was ar­rested for al­legedly start­ing a fire in an apart­ment that killed a mother and three chil­dren ages 11, 8 and 6.

Breaches of the code range from hav­ing a crim­i­nal record to pro­vid­ing em­ploy­ers with false in­for­ma­tion, such as on re­sumes, health records or fake ID cards.

Those who at­tempt to break a con­tract to se­cure a pay rise or ask to bor­row money from em­ploy­ers will also be black­listed.

New em­ploy­ees reg­is­tered with any of the more than 300 agen­cies for do­mes­tic work­ers rep­re­sented by the as­so­ci­a­tion will need to pro­vide proof of a clean crim­i­nal record via doc­u­ments is­sued by the po­lice depart­ment of their home re­gion.

“The stan­dards will be pro­moted city­wide soon,” said Zhang Baoxia, sec­re­tary-gen­eral of the Shang­hai Home Ser­vice In­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion.

The do­mes­tic worker in Hangzhou, sur­named Mo, was charged with ar­son and theft. Although she told po­lice she was ad­dicted to on­line gam­bling, her mo­tive for al­legedly start­ing the blaze re­mains un­known.

The in­ci­dent caused a sen­sa­tion be­cause house­keep­ers are ini­tially strangers to the fam­i­lies that em­ploy them, but they usu­ally have di­rect con­tact with all the mem­bers. In time, many be­come ac­cepted as part of the fam­ily, Zhang said.

Ac­cord­ing to a poll con­ducted by the Fam­ily Devel­op­ment Re­search Cen­ter at Fu­dan Univer­sity in Shang­hai and pub­lished in De­cem­ber, about one in five fam­i­lies in Shang­hai em­ploy or plan to em­ploy do­mes­tic work­ers or nan­nies. That’s mainly be­cause a grow­ing num­ber of cou­ples are plan­ning to have a sec­ond child, and also be­cause China’s pop­u­la­tion is ag­ing rapidly and more peo­ple re­quire care.

Com­plaints, con­straints

Zhang said: “The fire prompted wide­spread dis­cus­sion about the frus­tra­tion of try­ing to find an ideal nanny who is al­ways on time, is hon­est and can cook and clean pro­fes­sion­ally. We drew up the code of con­duct to set more con­straints on house­keep­ers, and raise ser­vice stan­dards in the in­dus­try.”

Most of the com­plaints agen­cies re­ceive from clients are about house­keep­ers who fail to ar­rive on time, but leave be­fore the end of their ar­ranged work­ing hours, and some of them “tend to dilly dally”, he added.

Last year, when she be­came her el­derly mother’s full-time carer, Shang­hai res­i­dent Chen Yan hired a house­keeper to clean for two hours a day. The house­keeper, who was in her 30s, was slow and un­help­ful.

“She spent the sec­ond hour mop­ping the floors of my apart­ment, which has three bed­rooms and two bath­rooms. That was fine, but she was very slow and it seemed as though she needed a short rest af­ter every sin­gle move­ment,” said Chen, 57, a re­tired ac­coun­tant.

“More­over, she looked at the clock on the wall every five min­utes to en­sure she left at the ex­act minute the two hours ex­pired.”

Chen ended the woman’s con­tract af­ter a month.

Zhang said the num­ber of com­plaints about other in­ci­dents, such as steal­ing, is rel­a­tively low.

Xia Jun, pres­i­dent of the Shang­hai Changn­ing Dis­trict Homemak­ing Ser­vice As­so­ci­a­tion, said the or­ga­ni­za­tion re­ceives at least one such re­port from clients per month.

For four years, Zhong Ling, who lives with her hus­band and two chil­dren in Shang­hai, hired a house­keeper to clean her home every day.

The ar­range­ment worked well for a long time, but in May last year, Zhong re­al­ized that two of her dresses were miss­ing. She didn’t pay much at­ten- tion un­til two more went miss­ing three months later. Af­ter that, the thefts didn’t stop. In­stead, they be­came more fre­quent.

In Novem­ber, Zhong couldn’t find a neck­lace she had bought, but had never worn. She had placed it in a jewelry box in a drawer.

“I asked the nanny if she had seen the neck­lace. She sud­denly be­came very an­gry. She shouted, “You can­not doubt me. My job is not of high rank, but you must not in­sult me,” said Zhong, a 46-year-old home­maker.

How­ever, a week later, the house­keeper asked whether the di­a­mond on the neck­lace was real.

“That was il­log­i­cal be­cause I don’t think she had seen the neck­lace, so she wouldn’t have known there was a di­a­mond on it,” said Zhong, who ad­mit­ted that she doesn’t like to find fault with others.

As she didn’t have hard ev­i­dence that the clothes and the

Check­ing cell­phones ... while work­ing is heav­ily dis­cour­aged, and that sort of be­hav­ior while cook­ing or look­ing af­ter a baby is com­pletely banned.” Xia Jun, pres­i­dent of the Shang­hai Changn­ing Dis­trict Homemak­ing Ser­vice As­so­ci­a­tion

neck­lace had been stolen by the do­mes­tic worker, she was pre­pared to let the mat­ter ride.

“But the maid’s at­ti­tude to­ward us quickly de­te­ri­o­rated, and she didn’t take the job as se­ri­ously as be­fore. I thought it was her way of man­u­fac­tur­ing an ex­cuse so we could fire her. As a re­sult, I ended her con­tract,” she said.

So­lu­tions

Xia said his as­so­ci­a­tion con­sulted more than 100 agen­cies be­fore it drew up the code of con­duct to en­sure the doc­u­ment was as prac­ti­cal as pos­si­ble.

“For ex­am­ple, check­ing cell­phones or mak­ing three-minute calls while work­ing is heav­ily dis­cour­aged, and that sort of be­hav­ior while cook­ing or look­ing af­ter a baby is com­pletely banned be­cause it can be very dan­ger­ous,” he said.

He sug­gested that clients who sus­pect their house­keeper of steal­ing should re­port their sus­pi­cions to the po­lice: “If you ignore their mis­be­hav­ior, they may be­come greed­ier next time.”

He also sug­gested that clients who give money to the house­keeper to buy gro­ceries or other items should check how the money is spent be­cause the as­so­ci­a­tion of­ten re­ceives com­plaints such as, “The house­maid used to be able to buy us three days’ food with 200 yuan ($30), but now she can­not buy two days’ food with the same amount.”

How­ever, em­ploy­ers rarely ask for re­ceipts.

Xia urged clients to re­frain from rais­ing their house­keeper’s wages with­out con­sult­ing the as­so­ci­a­tion.

“When house­keep­ers gather to­gether, the most im­por­tant thing is show­ing off how much ex­tra money their em­ploy­ers give them and how easy their work is. We don’t want em­ploy­ers to re­ward or pun­ish peo­ple pri­vately, be­cause that may af­fect wages and the do­mes­tic’s at­ti­tude to work,” he added.

Luo Haoyun, a su­per­vi­sor at Domo, an agency for do­mes­tic work­ers in Shang­hai, said clients should al­ways use re­li­able agen­cies be­cause they in­sist on a pro­ba­tion pe­riod for can­di­dates.

“Do­mes­tic work­ers usu­ally live in dor­mi­to­ries ar­ranged by the agency, so their words and be­hav­ior can be ob­served. They are as­sessed based on the ini­tial re­ac­tions of their clients be­fore they are of­fi­cially em­ployed,” he said.

Ac­cord­ing to Luo, smaller agen­cies don’t have those rules. More­over, they pro­vide op­por­tu­ni­ties for every worker on their books to earn more in bro­ker­age fees, and many ex­ag­ger­ate can­di­dates’ work ex­pe­ri­ence to win clients.

“I wouldn’t sug­gest look­ing for a do­mes­tic worker on­line ei­ther, be­cause some web­sites don’t bother to ver­ify the job seeker’s in­for­ma­tion,” Luo said.

De­spite the im­pres­sion given by re­cent events, most do­mes­tic work­ers and nan­nies are re­li­able and trust­wor­thy.

Lu Yan, a jour­nal­ist in Shang­hai, hired a nanny when her daugh­ter was born a year ago.

She is de­lighted with the ser­vice she has re­ceived.

“She al­ways helps me be­fore I ask. She is very nice to us, es­pe­cially the baby. When­ever her fam­ily brings eggs laid by the hens they raise in the coun­try­side, she brings all of them for my baby girl,” the 31-yearold said.

“I’m sin­cere and le­nient with her. When she broke a mug, I said, ‘ Never mind. Every­body makes mis­takes’. Mu­tual re­spect is al­ways the best ap­proach.”

Con­tact the writer at zhouwent­ing @chi­nadaily.com.cn

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

House­keep­ers and nan­nies line up at a do­mes­tic ser­vice job fair in Ningbo, Zhe­jiang prov­ince, in Fe­bru­ary.

LIU JIANG / FOR CHINA DAILY

House­keep­ers clean win­dows on a build­ing in Taiyuan, Shanxi prov­ince, in Jan­uary last year.

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