Migration and Networks of Care




Adequate provision of care is a critical issue for European societies. Researchers all over Europe expect that demand for domestic workers and care providers in private households will rise considerably in the years ahead (Lutz, 2002). The reasons for this include both a rapidly ageing population in Europe and the insufficiency of state care provisions for children, older and disabled people in many countries (Williams, 2004; Gavanas, Tobio and Williams, 2006). Insufficient welfare state supports combined with a reduction in working women’s availability for voluntary care/domestic work has created a growing market in this sector.  Private households are choosing to buy in these services and are emerging as employers, as a consequence. 

As a consequence of globalisation, women are moving across borders more than ever before.  Increasingly, migrant women are meeting the demand for domestic service in European households.  Internationally, domestic service is one of the main types of employment taken up by migrant women (see Ehrenreich and Hochschild et al., 2002 for an extensive discussion).  While domestic service is apparent on a global scale and a topic of several studies in Britain (Anderson, 2000), this project – Migration and Networks of Care - will also focus on illuminating and bringing together a range of studies of the German, Dutch, Italian, Irish, Polish, Ukrainian and Swedish situations where research has only recently started.  A central aim of the project is to produce and analyse new data that documents the hidden experience of migrant women employed in this sector as well as the employers.  Research sources on the current situation are scarce compared to historical studies of servants and domestic service. In addition, the widespread migration of women from developing countries to do “women’s work” in affluent countries has so far received little media attention.  In several countries, we know very little about the care providers (the women being recruited to do this kind of work as maids, nannies, au pairs, carers, cleaners, domestics etc) or the care receivers (those who employ migrant workers to do housework and/or care for children/frail/older/disabled people).   Paid work in private households is one of the most undocumented, unregulated and invisible forms of employment in the European economy. The invisibility of domestic workers is reinforced by the often illegal character of this work.  And unlike factory workers, who congregate in large numbers, or taxi drivers who are visible on the street, nannies, servants and maids are often ‘hidden away’ behind closed doors in private homes.  

A 1997 report for the Equal Opportunities Unit DGV (Commission of the European Communities) noted many cross-national similarities.  The majority of domestic workers in all countries were migrant women, although the dominant groups varied by country: North Africans in France, Spain and Italy; Peruvians and Dominicans in Spain; Albanians, Eritreans and Ethiopians in Greece and Italy; Poles and other East Europeans in Greece, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.  However, more recently, commentators suggest the situation is more complex and varies immensely throughout Europe (see Williams, 2004).  Consequently, this project will produce new comprehensive data and analysis of the situation in eight countries – Ireland, UK, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, and the Ukraine.  The research will be informed by previous research conducted by three of the project partners in the UK, Sweden, Spain and Germany.  Differences between individual countries, due to the existence of very different legislation provisions for migrant domestic workers, will be compared and examined in Irish and Dutch-based legal projects.  Furthermore, the European social policy context will be examined in a comparative European analysis conducted in theUK where extensive empirical data has already been gathered on domestic servants and employers in theUK,Sweden andSpain(Williams, 2004).

In Ireland women were until recently leaving the country in significant numbers to work in domestic service and nursing (see Walter, 2001).  However, in the 1990s Ireland dramatically transformed from being a country of longstanding emigration to one of net immigration, which makes it an interesting location in which to lead this collaborative project.  A new influx of female migrants into the domestic services arena is currently in progress.  Historically in Ireland, wealthy households paid working-class women to undertake tasks such as cleaning, cooking and caring for children and older people.  However, as a direct result of the profound economic and social changes that have taken place in recent years, it is now more likely to find a migrant woman (predominantly Eastern European since the recent accession of a number of new member states last year) fulfilling these roles in Irish households.  Given the recent nature of these developments in Ireland, there is virtually no qualitative data on the experience of these newly arrived migrant domestic workers.  Empirical research is a necessary starting point in the case of Ireland as well as a law in context study, which will examine the experience of the new migrant domestic workers and look at how the legal infrastructure in Ireland is coping with the challenge.  Extensive empirical research (incorporating maids, cleaners, nannies, au pairs and care assistants who live in and live out of the private household) will also be conducted in Germany, the Ukraine, the Netherlands and Poland. 

Domestic/care work cannot be neatly categorised. It can involve only cleaning, while care work often involves housework as well. Whether employees are live-in or live-out workers is also significant.  Live-in workers (e.g. au pairs) tend to undertake a more diverse range of tasks and duties and work much longer hours than casual or part-time domestic workers.  Moreover, since the domestic service/caring sector is unregulated in most countries, average working hours and range of duties vary and can be excessive.  Women working in care work/domestic service are undoubtedly less organised than their counterparts in all other female occupations due to the often clandestine nature of their work status.  Neither the employees or the employers are interested in giving up the illegal character of the work because they fear negative legal and social consequences (such as, taxation).  Significantly, migrant workers are more likely than local workers to live-in with their employers.  Live-in workers are considerably less expensive than live-out workers, in most cases because their board and lodging are set against their wages, but especially because employers get more labour and flexibility for their money.  The statistics are, in many ways, incomplete in several countries.  We have information on legal migrants, but not on illegal migrants, which experts tell us travel in equal if not in greater numbers (see Ehrenreich and Hochschild et al., 2002). Undocumented workers in particular, without papers or legal protection, are clearly vulnerable to exploitation. 

Anderson and Phizacklea (1997) reported to the European Commission the following common problems for domestics: unpaid hours; low income, often less than the minimum wage; denial of wages in cases of dismissal following trial or probation periods; refusal by employers to arrange legal resident status (for tax reasons, etc.); control and sexual harassment; pressure to do additional work (for friends and colleagues); excessive workloads, especially where in addition to caring for children and older people they are responsible for all other household chores; and finally the very intimate relationship between the domestic helpers and their employers.  The individual projects in this collaboration will examine the range of possible legal, social and economic problems that immigration may produce.  Strategies to reposition domestic service/care work into the realm of recognized and productive work will also be developed. 

Recruitment practices and the role of agencies is also an important issue in the project.  The German-based project will focus on this issue, in particular. The governments of some sending countries actively encourage women to migrate in search of domestic jobs – domestic workers are a valuable export.  The concept of ‘global care chains’ refers to the emigration paths of carers and servants around the world.  In this project, the importance of transnational connections requires us to look beyond the interaction between countries of origin and destination towards wider migratory networks (Anthias and Lazaridis, 2000: 12).  The great majority of paid housekeepers/carers are found through agencies or networks of already employed friends and relatives.   The prevalence of networks of care in Europe is therefore a central focus of this research.  One of the projects will involve corresponding research and interviews with women in Poland, the Ukraine and Germany drawing attention to the "care drain." Women leave their own homes and families in poor countries to serve those of first-world, upwardly mobile professionals in Europe, easing a care deficit in affluent countries while leaving one “back home.”  Care work has always been considered “women’s work” and as a rule has been undervalued, underpaid or considered voluntary.  Until care is valued in society more generally, the extensive influx of migrant women into the domestic and care economy inEuropewill remain a largely undocumented, invisible and undervalued resource.

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