Helping hands wanted for the home
An aging society and growing middle class mean there is a soaring demand for good domestic workers, Hou Liqiang reports.
Finding qualified and dedicated domestic workers has been “extremely difficult” for Han Lu, an engineer at a State-owned company in Hubei’s provincial capital Wuhan.
The 37-year-old has changed two nannies and been through 30 domestic workers since she had her daughter on June 4, 2014. She said most of the domestic workers have not been satisfactory as they lacked knowhow about the service they offer.
Han’s experience testifies to the lack of professional domestic workers in China, for which there is a growing demand.
“Good domestic workers are in high demand. The supply, however, falls short. Many families find it difficult to employ a qualified domestic worker,” said Li Changze, a spokesman for Ayilaile, an agency that supplies domestic services.
More than 70,000 domestic workers serving more than 100,000 clients nationwide are registered with Ayilaile.
But currently, only two out of every 10women, who are sent to the company through local government’s labor export projects or by training schools, are qualified to do the work, Li said.
“The domestic service industry used to employ a lot of women that could hardly find other jobs, but they are not the labor the industry really needs. Instead of the surplus labor, the industry needs young people who consider domestic service to be their career,” he said.
Lacking professionalism, many domestic workers only want to make money and may quit at any time, he added.
The last nanny Han hired had to call her teacher constantly to ask for advice. She quit suddenly before Spring Festival last year, leaving Han in the lurch, and she had to ask for leave from her work. She said she even thought about quitting her job.
Han increased the number of domestic workers in her home from two to three last month to support the family of six, including three seniors in their 70s. In addition to a nanny, she has one worker to do the cleaning and one to do the cooking.
“I employ three so there will be someone who can help even if two of them quit,” she said.
Li said it’s important that home helpers with high qualifications and a professional attitude are paid decent salaries to encourage others to follow their example. Then, more people would regard being in domestic service as a career rather than just a temporary job.
Gao Xin, author of Blooming Viola Philippica: The Oral History of Domestic Workers, said many women with no special skills work on factory assembly lines first and then construction sites before becoming domestic workers.
She said many Chinese domestic workers, who are from the bottom rung of society, hold the perception that they are inferior to others. This differs a lot from Filipino domestic workers, who take pride in theirwork
I employ three (domestic helpers) so there will be someone who can help even if two of them quit.” Han Lu, a resident of Wuhan, Hubei province
and have won wide recognition, she said.
That domestic workers feel inferior can sometimes result in trouble, Gao said. She offered as an example a live-in postpartum care worker who would probably feel hesitant to oppose the parents’ decision not to send an infant with fever to hospital.
If they have professional status, they would have more respect and their opinions would be more valued, Gao said.
However, she said many women, though they do the work, only do so because the demand is there and it is a way to make some money; they do not view it as a career or want to be a professional.
During the restructuring of China’s State-owned enterprises in the 1990s, tens of millions of workers were laid off. The All-China Women’s Federation and its local branches made great efforts to train and absorb laid-off women into the domestic service industry, said Tang Binyao, an associate professor of social work at the University of Jinan in Shandong province.
Those laid-off workers are now retiring. While some college graduates are joining the industry, the proportion of female migrant workers from the rural areas working as home helpers is still high. With insufficient training, these women lack the necessary service skills and have a low level of professionalism, said Tang, who is also one of the nine founders of the Gichon Social Service Center for the Community in Jinan, an NGO that focuses on serving seniors and domestic workers.
While these women from rural areas are important to meet the growing demand from lonely seniors with low incomes, they may meet some problems in serving the increasing high-end demand from the growing middle class.
“Middle-class people usually respect their domestic workers. However, theymay get into disputes with them as they have high requirements for their hired help,” said Tang.
Chen Jiyan, a program officer for domestic workers at Beijing Hongyan Social Work Service Center, said the lack of training for domestic workers is a long-standing problem. She once attended a training class for domestic workers when she was doing research, but found the teacher only asked the students to note down what she had included in her Powerpoint slides without offering any further explanation.
Chen said some domestic workers don’t even know how to use home appliances, let alone know how to make Western desserts or pastries.
Han, the Wuhan engineer, said many of the domestic workers she had hired to do the cooking didn’t know how to use the oven, and they cleaned nonstick pans with steel wool, damaging them.
“Every time, I have to train them how to use our home appliances before they start their work,” Han said.
Without enough training, domestic workers have to meet the personalized needs and high requirements of the families they work for.
Inresponse to the growing demand for domestic helpers, some colleges have launched domestic service majors to build up a talent pool for the industry. Chen, however, doubts many of the students who study the major will work in the industry.
“The domestic service industry is promising, but there is still social discrimination against the job,” she said.
Domestic workers use dolls to practice how to teach babies to walk during a training course in Beijing.
Center: A class is held to improve domestic workers’ cooking skills. Above: Future domestic workers learn cleaning skills