Development Partnership SIPA – System of Domestic Help (EQUAL)
SIPA project (The System of Domestic Help), a Development Partnership that is part of EQUAL, a European Social Fund Community Initiative focuses on reproductive labor, with an emphasis on domestic work and childcare, or family work – a subject that has not been frequently addressed either within sociology or within the wider fields of the social sciences and the humanities. We deconstruct and problematize certain basic determinants that in the capitalist system designate domestic work as non-work, or as a labor of love performed by women, so that it is not considered “real” work. Furthermore, as work performed within the private sphere, it is not a subject of public interest; it is viewed as non-productive work that does not produce surplus value, but is primarily oriented towards consumption and is not paid. The perception that domestic work is not work leads to the invisibility of the double burden borne by contemporary women, i.e. that of paid productive work within the public sphere, and non-paid reproductive labor within the private sphere. Public, political and even feminist critique focus primarily on the participation of women in the sphere of paid work, while the problematization of the burden of reproductive labor shouldered by women is marginalized. The said perception that domestic work is not work is also the reason for the invisibility of paid domestic work, although, according to a number of research findings, it is as widespread in modern society as it was in the past. The only difference is that today it is enshrouded in silence. Yet this sphere of invisible, reproductive labor is a source of informal employment and of survival for a multitude of women (women again!), although not any women, but women of specific nationalities, a specific age and class. The workers within the informal field of paid domestic work are today primarily (illegal) women immigrants, older women, long-term-unemployed women, and, increasingly, young women who are first-time job seekers or workers whose primary jobs pay low wages, insufficient to meet the basic costs of living. As a result, there are, on the one hand, women who are doubly burdened by productive and reproductive work and hence forced to transfer part of reproductive labor to domestic workers selling these services on the black market, and, on the other, women who have found themselves in a financial or other threatening crisis, so they undertake the work of other women, indeed for payment, but under undefined working conditions and deprived of the rights and duties arising from labor relations. The invisibility of domestic work and the perception that it is not work therefore lead to the perception of contemporary domestic workers as non-workers. The main thesis of the study, conceptualized as an applied research project, was that the currently existing informal market of paid domestic work in Slovenia can be transformed into an area of regular employment for long-term-unemployed women and that this could reduce the burden of reproductive labor shouldered by households with small children, and women within these households, in particular. The goal of the project was to formulate recommendations for the commissioner of the project, the Ministry of Labor, Family and Social Affairs, on how to shape the system of paid domestic work so that it generates quality jobs for hard-to-employ persons while providing services affordable to a wider circle of households.
Project leader: Majda Hrženjak
Project coworkers: Nataša Kraljič Černe, Barbara Žaucer Šefman, Meta Furlani, Tine Lovec, Tadeja Košak, Mojca Frelih, Živa Humer and Franja Arlič
– surveying the needs for paid domestic work in households with small children including the survey on how much they already use paid domestic work;
– the survey of interests to employ as domestic worker according to the conditions of regular employment relationship among long-term unemployed women including the survey of to which extent they already make for a living as informal domestic worker;
– a pilot experiment of paid domestic work as a regular job with all rights and duties that goes with regular employment and are defined by working legislation;
– evaluation of the pilot experiment.
Recommendations for professionalization and regulation of paid domestic work:
The creation of new jobs through subsidies that would amount to approximately 50% of the gross wage of a domestic worker and of coordination and education costs would reduce the price of these services, make them more accessible, and would also create regular, organized labor relations for domestic workers. The subsidy would enable the survival of public companies that carry out recruitment, education, and employment and the market promotion of these services.
The wages of domestic workers should be attractive, otherwise they would not be competitive with earnings on the black market. At the same time, they should remain within certain limits in order to keep the prices down and make domestic services accessible to a wider circle of users, not only wealthy social classes. Having this in mind, it is recommendable to consider selective subsidies on the side of the demand (e.g. within the framework of family policies).
The domestic work services should be defined accurately, including their content, working hours and rates. Both specific services (e.g. master cleaning) and integral services (e.g. shopping, cooking, escorting of children) can be offered.
The quality of workplace is the most important element when creating new jobs within the service sector. Since domestic work involves harder physical labor, and since domestic workers are mainly long-term-unemployed women, frequently at an advanced age, effective work should be limited to 5 or 6 hours a day; the time used for transport from one workplace to another should be considered part of working hours.
Since this segment anticipates work with hard-to-employ persons, education should include motivation for work, the elements of psycho-social integration, and special stress should be placed on knowledge of the worker’s rights and methods to implement them. It should also devote attention to work/socializing with children.
Coordination must be professional, accessible, flexible and must be based on modern communication technologies. Both domestic workers and household members should have a feeling of confidence and organization. It should comprise mediation in conflict situations, advocacy, help with networking, self-organization etc. It should enable self-organization of domestic workers in the form of cooperatives and self-employment. It should aspire towards the standardization of paid domestic work, towards quality working condition and de-feminization of this area.
Modern trends on the labor market include the intensification of work and the emerging of a culture of long working hours. Consequently, intimate life is increasingly subordinated to work. This creates a difficult situation, particularly for those whose duties include childcare, care for the elderly or for sick family members. At the same time, it is becoming increasingly difficult to create new jobs for those social groups which are increasingly excluded from the labor market in an ever more radical way, because their work efficiency falls short of the maximum expected. These are people with low levels of education, older people, first-time job seekers, younger women without children or women with small children. To be honest, the regulation of paid domestic work is rather a symptom of the predicament faced by the capitalist system than a solution to it. Even so, in the circumstances dictated by the existing system, regulation could improve the quality of life and socio-economic position of long-term-unemployed persons and households with small children.
- National partners: National Employment Agency, Ninamedia d.o.o., Centerkontura
- Transnational partners: Home Managers, Belgium; Modellértékű NőTámogató Rendszer kiépítése, Hungary; Nuovi Orizzonti Per L`Economia Sociale, Italy; Women@Work in Action, Netherlands