Tuesday, February 01, 2000
My experience with domestic workers

In your article of December 15, entitled ‘Study Shows Raw Deal Given To Female Domestic Workers, there are a few main points noted source from statistics carried out by the Mediterranean Institute of Gender Studies:

“The domestics earn the same salary since 1990, not taking into account cost of living increases.

The employers are not giving the increases of 5% per year as per the contract.
Their hours are not clearly stated on the contract.”

It appears that this study was carried out by interviewing only the domestics and no employers, which would appear to be unfair, one sided and not indicative of all the facts.
Having employed domestics for my family and my sick mother-in-law for close to 10 years, her are some facts that were not stated:

1. When a domestic brought from abroad (Philippines, Sri Lanka, India, etc.) the employer takes a leap by bringing a stranger into their house who may or may not conform to their resume or picture. If they don’t conform the employer has spent close to £1,000 for nothing. In some cases with some agents they may get to exchange with another domestic for no extra money, with no guaranties. This cost should not be borne by the employer alone.

2. The domestic arriving typically has no worthwhile training and their English is primitive at best. When they leave after a year or two, they have also benefited by learning English and sometimes Greek. Additionally they have learned how a modern household is run, and have learned about basic hygiene. All valuable skills learned from the employers which can be later used for a better job when they leave their employer.

3. During their first 3 months they are learning how to work in a house with machines that they have no experience in a language they don’t know. Typically they are in a rush to let the madam think they understand how things work and so starts the problems. Washing machines, vacuums, dishwashers all broken in the first three months is not uncommon. When things are broken the employer must pay and the domestic promises to be more careful. Again the all the risk and expense in on the employer. Typically domestics stay with their original employers for between 1-3 years and then leave to get married, go for a sick relative or leave to work illegally by the hour.

4. All domestics receive additional money beyond the contract. They all receive a minimum £5 per week for Sunday money. Those working extra hours translate to extra money from £30 to £150 per month. Then there are all the other extras: personal needs, dietary requirements, etc. This all adds up to an extra £100 per month easily. This is true specifically for my mother-in-law, whose domestic makes her own food every day (meat curry), also she is sick at least twice per month with cramps or flu and requires bed rest 2-3 days per month (never on a Sunday of course) and medicines of up to £25 per month. The girl is leaving in a few months and my mother-in-law (who is fed up with the situation) refuses to get a new domestic even though she has serious health problems.

5. As for cost of living all money earned is sent home and the cost of living here in Cyprus is borne fully by the employer, i.e. heat, electricity, gas, food, clothes, medicines, etc.

6. Of course the above does not include thefts by domestics. We have been robbed by 2 girls over the past 10 years; those same two girls have left finding boyfriends and becoming illegal. Money and goods stolen have never been returned and our bank accounts are still blocked for their guarantee money.

Having brought a total of over 10 girls in 10 years we have spent thousands to bring the domestics, lost thousands for damages, thefts and other problems. Clearly there are reasons why the salaries are stated at a minimum £150, so as to protect also the employer to a limited extent.

Cyprus is known to be one of the more preferred destinations, which explains why there are 51,045 foreign workers currently registered in Cyprus, as per the article on page 15 of Cyprus Mail on immigration, also in the December 15 edition. Many employers have domestics over years from the same families and villages showing how happy they are to have these jobs. Lastly there are many domestics who later marry their employers and can be seen with their children and extended families enjoying Cyprus and hiring their own domestics.

I think in future it is important to tell both sides of the story when presenting such an article and the Mediterranean Institute should extend their research further to get both sides of the story as well.

For those families that both husband and wife must work to pay the ever increasing “cost of living” and must pay thousand to bring these domestics her it is important to realize their risks and expenses as well. Clearly there should be a review from both sides so that employers are protected as well.

Why doesn’t the Med Institute do a study of how women in Cyprus generally are getting a raw deal, hence lack of significant numbers of women business leaders, women politicians and no women presidential candidates?

Name and address supplied
posted by Ally at 3:45 pm ¤ Permalink ¤