Experiences and strategies of migration domestic workers

Care arrangements changed in the last decades, especially in the developed countries. Traditionally the women in the family were the ones who were taking care of the elder people and they were unpaid. As the women started to work on their own, this task had to be taken by someone else. In a globalized world, women from less developed countries may come and take care of the elderly people in developed countries.

One of the workshops in panel 2 offered the study cases on the status of domestic workers in Cyprus and in Switzerland. Sarah Schilliger, researcher and member of WIDE Switzerland offered the participants of the workshop an insight on how migrant women are taking care of elderly, dependent people and how home-based care-arrangements do function in Switzerland. In the most cases migrant women come from Eastern European countries that are member of EU and can enter easily Switzerland. This care arrangement is made after the au-pair model which was first meant to function as an intercultural exchange for young people. But in the home-based care arrangements the work conditions are not so friendly for the care giving persons. They are working for economic reasons and not for intercultural exchange, and the work conditions are demanding strong physical and psychological condition. The main problem for the ones who are offering this kind of care services is that there are no regulations for this job, so the line between being a family member and being a worker is hard to be defined: the working hours are undefined and the working person has to be available round the clock, the tasks are not always clearly defined, the care giver can barely leave the house and has little access to social contacts. There are just informal contracts between the worker and family, therefore the worker has no social benefits and no access to health care, the wages are low and the worker is vulnerable to be exploited or abused. Moreover the migrant women have their own family to look after and they have to pass this responsibility to someone else: either another female member of the family or they hire someone with lower salary to take care of their own family.

The graphic above was presented by Sarah Schilliger in order to represent this “migrant to family” care model. An intersection can be observed between care-regime (who is providing and who is responsible to offer care support for elderly people, how are these responsibilities distributed between the state, the family and the market), gender regime (who is doing this work, men or women?) and the migration-regime (which are the migration regulations and how are the new patterns of labor migration configured).

In conclusion this migrant to family care model is not a win-win solution because of the precarity of working and living conditions of the migrant and this arrangement maintains and recreates inequalities along class, nationality/ethnicity, gender and it creates new global dependencies (care drain, international division of reproductive labor).

Irina Ilisei, participant at Workshop 3 on Studies, experiences and strategies of migration domestic workers to protect their rights, Panel 2.

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