Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Filipino OFWs as Domestic Workers - A Case Study (UPDATED re Greek Financial Crisis 2015)

“To be poor and independent is very nearly an impossibility.” - William Corbett, 1830

“They do not easily rise whose abilities are repressed by poverty at home.” - Decimus Juvenalis, 120 AD (CE)

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UPDATE (7/7/2015):


For years, Greece and its citizens have been caught in the classic "debt trap," previously suffered only by underdeveloped/poor countries like our homeland Philippines. But significantly, the Greek citizenry currently with a leftwing-led coalition of political lederships and many of its young (below 34 years old), have shown their nationalism and rejected further dictates for more austerity and "reforms" which come as part and parcel of foreign loans. I hope the Greeks will keep their unity and overcome the hardships that come with being independent though poorer; but not beggars.
Not like us native Filipinos, who had lost our chance in 1986 to be like these nationalistic Greeks. In 1986 Pres. Cora Aquino did not negotiate our foreign debt, while the world seems to sympathize with her and our country then; but instead sought to please our foreign creditors by promising to pay religiously despite the social hardships the native Filipinos were undergoing. Fast forward 29 years, that is, today, we have not paid our debt (principal) that has bloated from $26 Billion to $61 Billion. Without our primary export of labor via (OFW) and their remittances, our homeland and people would be insolvent and potentially again, a revolutionary situation would present itself. Worse, despite following the "neoliberal reforms and structural adjustments" imposed by the World Bank (WB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF), they did not do wonders for our native Filipino majority, but left us with much less natural resources for our younger and unborn generations, government/national assets sold off to foreigners and their local elite partners, etc.. The overall result is that we are now overall much poorer, with greater misery index, and no decent jobs at home; so we export many of our college-educated as modern-day slaves.


Hi All,

The Greek nation is now in financial default and we can wonder how our fellow, native Filipino OFW caregivers fare out there. We can only expect that they will/are forced to look for other countries seeking modernized slaves or to coming home hopelessly poorer - all this misery and social disintegration in the homeland, thanks to our rulers since Marcos - all kowtowing to the IMF and WB and the WTO in the Philippines.

The unquestioned globalism --economic globalization and consequent alien cultural dominance-- is showing its resultant discontents, its destructive socioeconomic impacts to the ordinary citizens of western/supposedly advanced nations; we see similar dire impacts from globalization in the economic demise for peoples of short-lived "economic booms" in Ireland, relatively ever-poor Portugal, suffering Spain, maybe Italy as rumored.

In the USA, its creeping then slippery-slope decline which I continually witness in my 30+ years here [the USA is only saved so far by its world economic (though slowly crumbling) dominance and overspending on American militarism (military superiority) designed for maintaining American hegemony via foreign intervention and to provide "soldiering" as jobs to the under-educated and/or potentially unemployed American, all these thanks to Wall Street, multinationals and de-industrialization that began in the 1970's, NAFTA  and finally expedited by the WTO agreements - which the average American sadly do not comprehend and thus unable to effect a change of course for the common good]. 

- Bert 


from :

The 2008 collapse of Lehman Bros Holdings Inc. (PINK: LEHMQ) ignited a financial meltdown that resulted in widespread bank failures and caused the Dow Jones Industrial Average to lose 18% of its value in just one week.

Yet a Greek default - which (even with a bailout) becomes increasingly likely with each passing day - would actually be much, much worse in many respects.

Sure, it's possible that European Union (EU) taxpayers will soon be dragooned into yet another rescue plan. But that would only delay the inevitable - a catastrophic collapse that will drudge up feelings of panic we haven't witnessed since the global financial crisis hit its apex nearly three years ago.

Here's why.

Dodgy Debt and a Dozing Economy

Greece's debt, at about $430 billion, is less than that of Lehman Brothers, which owed around $600 billion at the time of its bankruptcy. But Greece's finances are much less sound.

Whereas Lehman Brothers participated in the 2003-07 financial bubble with considerable enthusiasm, accumulating vast amounts of the dodgy subprime mortgage paper whose value collapsed in the 2007-08 downturn, Greece's misdeeds date back much further - to its 1981 entry into the EU.

As the poorest member of that group, Greece became eligible for a vast array of inventive subsidies, primarily related to agriculture. However, the frauds the country perpetrated to justify even larger subsidies were even more inventive. And this allowed Greece to bring its living standards close to the EU average, while still being subsidized as if it was a genuinely poor country.

Indeed, Greece produced nothing close to the level of economic output that would be needed to justify its spending and the lifestyle of its people.

The problem for Greece is thus stark: Its people need to suffer a decline in living standards of about 30% to 40% , so that the country's output is sufficient to repay its debts.]


Filipina OFWs as Domestic Workers - A Case Study

"Upang maitindig natin ang bantayog ng ating lipunan, kailangang radikal nating baguhin hindi lamang ang ating mga institusyon kundi maging ang ating pag-iisip at pamumuhay. Kailangan ang rebolusyon, hindi lamang sa panlabas, kundi lalo na sa panloob!" --Apolinario Mabini, La Revolucion Filipina (1898)

"Those who profess to favor freedom
and yet deprecate agitation

are men who want crops without 
plowing up the ground;
they want rain without thunder and
They want the ocean without the
awful roar of its waters.
This struggle may be a moral one
or it may be a physical one

or it may be both moral and physical
but it must be a struggle.
Power concedes nothing without a
It never did, and never will." – Frederick Douglass
 AmericanAbolitionistLecturerAuthor and Slave1817-1895)


Filipina OFWs as Domestic Workers - A Case Study

I found the below case study on our female OFWs and I am reminded of conversations I have experienced in two recent backpacking trips in Spain and Italy.

My conversations with Filipinas in places where I happen to meet them: having coffee at a fast-food, serving gelato, manning the internet cafe, shopping at a street market, waiting at a bus stop, cleaning the stairs, etc. It is always a depressing sight for me; it angers me and feeds the resentment I have for our rulers in government, of rulers --since the Marcos Dictatorship-- who rule mainly for the benefit of foreign interests and their local partners.

Our rulers dupe our OFWs by calling them "heroes." Yes, our rulers have OFWs as their heroes because the OFWs serve their purposes: to earn dollars and send remittances to pay the odious foreign debt started by Marcos and perpetuated by his successors Cory Aquino, Fidel Ramos, Estrada and now Gloria Arroyo, to keep the government coffers supplemented and thus allow greater personal gain for themselves, relatives and/or their minions while simultaneously ignoring badly needed public services, i.e. health, education, etc.

And very subtly and most importantly to these rulers, to provide a pressure relief to the social volcano (preventing or delaying a revolution) lest it erupt, should there be so many unemployed or underemployed college graduates and professionals joining the perennially much ignored, if not violently suppressed, farmers, peasants, workers, etc. protesting in the streets.

NO!! They are neither my nor your heroes, our OFWs are victims; victims all including their families and loved ones left behind.

As the young Malaysian women I met in Spain asked: "What is your government doing?!!" These five Malaysians were visiting the exquisitely designed and built former Moorish palaces and mosques (now cathedrals after the Spanish Inquisition) in the Andalusian region.

Our OFW caregivers, especially our women --as any concerned and thinking Filipino knows-- because they come from an underdeveloped country and throw in racism (mindset based on racial superiority according to where one stands in the color spectrum: European Racism, or in America, Social Darwinism), are not respected and are instead treated with disrespect, deceit, exploitation, with not much rights, with no bright future for themselves and (their families) in the countries they work, etc.; in short, they get slavish treatment in numerous instances.

It is the fault of our rulers from Marcos time till today. They --the ruling elite in government, military and business, with their foreign partners-- all rule for their own selfish agenda and at the expense of the ignorant majority of native (Malay) Filipino; ignorant citizens because these rulers want it that way. The foreigners and foreign companies (transnationals) want it that way; so they can freely come in unopposed to further exploit our non-replenishable natural resources and cheap labor, take total control of our national economy and hoard out all their profits. 

We, the so-called educated, allow it because we are deeply "class-conscious individualists," and either afraid to question the ruling regime; or we desire to join the ranks of our ruling elite.

- Bert

The globalisation of care: Filipina domestic workers and care for the elderly in Cyprus
Author: Panayiotopoulos, Prodromos
Date:Jun 22, 2005


The vast majority of paid and unpaid domestic workers are women. Explanations for women's employment frequently resort to crude biological reductionism, which purports to show that women have a range of natural attributes and aptitudes such as 'nimble fingers', 'quick eyes' and greater manual dexterity; rendering them, therefore, more suitable for assembly-line production, exemplified by the women-intensive textile and garment sector. This biological reductionism finds a parallel expression in notions of women as natural carers, and in the concentration of women workers in the lower grades of the caring professions, such as nursing, social work and teaching. One continuity appears in the undervaluing of work carried out by women.

The work of a maid is a concentrated example of gendered work characterised by low pay and invisibility. At the same time, foreign domestic workers are recruited in processes that involve both the sending and receiving countries, much of which is processed and monitored, and subject to international and bilateral agreements on immigration, labour rights and social protection. A significant social dimension appears in the presentation of domestic workers as 'young girls'. 

Many, in fact, are not young girls, and there is significant variation in the age structure between different migrant groups and receiving countries. However, the representation of migrant women as 'girl-children incapable of making decisions about their contracts, pay and terms of employment' (Chin, 1997: 379) is an important social construct, and a conscious strategy adopted by agents, governments and households in the management of women carers.

The growing demand for elderly care has led to an increase in the number of domestic workers employed for this purpose. This is one globally recognisable market response to demographic trends towards an aging population, which are most pronounced in the high-income economies of Europe and in the East Asian 'newly industrialising countries' (NICS). In the UK, it is estimated that between 1995 and 2031 the number of elderly people aged 65 and over will rise by nearly 57 per cent. The number of the very elderly (aged 85 and over) is projected to rise more rapidly, by around 79 per cent. Almost half of the growth in overall numbers is expected to occur between 2020 and 2031 (PSSRU, 1998: 46).

In southern European countries, in parallel with the growing number of elderly people, there is a significant reduction in the average size of the family, with people tending to marry later and to have fewer children. While many of the current elderly are those who had large families in the pre-war period, future generations will progressively have to draw on much smaller numbers of children as potential carers (Mestheneos & Triantafillou, 1993; Dell'Orto & Taccani, 1993; Twigg, 1996).

Trends towards an aging population have converged with attempts by governments to 'reform' pensions and care for the elderly, typically by increasing the role of the private sector, by the devaluation of the state pension, and by raising the retirement age. These policies have provoked major conflict between trade unions and governments in a number of European countries (Italy, Greece and France), and the fear of retirement has become a critical personal and political issue sweeping across Europe. 

In the UK, the privatisation of care for the elderly accelerated during the 1980s and 1990s as part of the shift from residential to 'community care' (see Hughes, 1995). Private domestic help tends to be highest amongst single elderly people, and 11 per cent of single elderly people with some level of dependency in the UK indicated this as a recourse. It is further projected that by the year 2031, private domestic help will make up the second-largest category of non-residential care in the UK (PSSRU, 1998: 81).

The nature of care for the elderly is shaped by the level of dependency, frequently measured in terms of the ability to perform activities including those instrumental to daily living. This is used by local authorities in the UK and elsewhere in order to assess need for residential care, and gives us an indication of the kind of work carried out by caters. High indices of dependency include the inability to bath and shower oneself, to dress and undress, to get in and out of bed alone, to go to the toilet alone, and in some cases to feed oneself. 

The proportion with no dependency tends to fall markedly with age. Department of Health figures show that over 75 per cent of elderly residents are in private care homes (PSSRU, 1998: 101). Another study of trends in residential and nursing home care indicates that the mean length of stay of permanent residents in private residential homes was substantially longer than the previous decade, and that residents in nursing homes were most likely to have been admitted from hospital (Darton & Miles, 1997: 9-10).

Twigg (1996) makes the distinction between 'informal helping' and 'heavy-duty caring' in order to explain different tasks in home-based care, which require different levels of intensity and effort. These range from help with practical domestic tasks such as preparing meals, shopping and housework, to help with personal and physical tasks such as dressing, bathing, going to the toilet and getting in and out of bed. Help with physical tasks is very labour-intensive, and is associated with long hours of caring. 

Many of the tasks that denote high levels of dependency have been excluded from government funding in the UK. One study of elderly people who had some level of dependency pointed to their spouse (38 per cent), another household member (17 per cent), or a relative outside the household (42 per cent), as the most significant carets. In 17 per cent of the sample, health and social services were mentioned, and the use of paid help featured in 15 per cent (PSSRU, 1998: 74).

The increased role for the private sector in care for the elderly raises important questions about the relationship between market, community and need. It is clear from the above that household members, rather than the community in general, are shouldering the major responsibilities for elderly care. It is also the case that the demand for care, while driven by need, is--as with other goods and services--a function of the person's income and the price of the good. 

While need is an important criteria, in privatised care this is not necessarily the case. Demand might not be effected because of inadequate income. Significantly, since the specific care-demand is shaped by the person's age, gender, occupation and health status, this has particular implications for elderly people, given that more of them tend to be in the lowest-income groups, and can least afford private care.

The commoditisation of reproductive labour

Passing the costs of increased elderly care needs to households has important implications for working class and professional women, who have to negotiate complex productive and reproductive demands on their time. Reproductive labour is generally the labour used by households to produce the services necessary for the care and maintenance of the current labour force, and in the reproduction of the next generation of labour. This includes childbearing and child rearing, as well as daily household maintenance.

One significant and growing dimension of this labour could be the care of close elderly relatives. It is women who come under the greatest pressure to care for the elderly. In culturally diverse societies, powerful prevailing ideas and social practices ensure that wives, daughters, daughters-in-law, granddaughters and sisters provide the necessary reproductive labour for the care of the elderly. At the same time, women are a growing section of the world's labour force. In Malaysia, for example, women accounted for a third of manufacturing employment in 1970, and nearly half by 1990 (Chin, 1997: 369). 

In Singapore, women were actively encouraged to re-enter employment after they had had children, and between 1980 and 1994 the number of married women employed in the labour force increased from 29 per cent to become 45 per cent of the total labour force. The government of Singapore encouraged middle-class households to employ foreign domestic workers as the cornerstone of its return-to-work policy. For many professional women, foreign maids became essential for housework, childcare and for the care of aged parents. Indeed, according to Yeoh et al. (1999: 120), they 'could not work but for the employment of maids'. Similar trends can also be observed in Hong Kong, where many of the employers are also women from the professional and managerial class (Ozeki, 1997: 685).

Much of the literature points to the transfer of reproductive labour as a recognisable response to the 'double burden' faced by professional women worldwide. Parrenas (2000: 561) writes that 'reproductive labor has long been a commodity purchased by class-privileged women'.

The conclusions drawn from the above analyses are that the 'transfer of social reproduction is a viable alternative only for middle and upper class families' (Heyzer & Wee, 1994: 39). Foreign domestic workers can also be understood as an example of globalisation in the personal service sector. Saskia Sassen (1991, 1996) suggests that one characteristic of contemporary globalisation is the incorporation of diverse immigrant groups into the informal labour markets of Europe and North America, typically as low-waged service workers or as marginal entrepreneurs. In this literature, the transfer of reproductive labour, or the 'international transfer of caretaking' (Parrenas, 2000: 561) lies at the heart of an analysis of modern capitalism (also see Chin, 1998; Hondagneu-Sotelo, 2001; Chang & Abramovitz, 2000; Parrenas (ed.), 2001; Anderson, 2001).

The extent to which the commoditisation of reproductive labour becomes prevalent in society, however, is influenced by the cost of the good or service provided. A review of monthly pay rates, in US dollars, for live-in domestic workers for whom food and accommodation is provided by the employer, shows considerable variation. This ranged from $722 for housekeepers and $778 for carers of elderly persons in Rome, Italy, to $1400 for housekeepers and child-carers and $1700 for carers of elderly persons in Los Angeles. In Singapore, wages varied from $140 to $200 per month.

In Malaysia, the Philippine Overseas Employment Admini-stration (POEA) set a rate for Filipina domestic workers at $250, but a 'compromise' was reached with the agents for a rate of $170. The Indonesian government established even lower rates for its nationals, at $150. The rate for housemaids in Lebanon is $100; in Kuwait it is between $100-200; in Cyprus it is a standard salary of $225; and in Hong Kong, $470. (1)

A more revealing indicator is to look at the salaries of foreign domestic workers as a percentage of average per-capita incomes in the receiving countries. This ranges from 57 per cent in the USA and 46 per cent in Italy, to 5.5 per cent in Singapore and 5 per cent in Kuwait. In Cyprus it is 21 per cent, and in Lebanon 34 per cent (see Table 1). Even with the limited data presented above, this indicates considerable variation in the cost of the service provided.

An additional and specific characteristic of care for the elderly is the possibility of sharing the costs of care between siblings, which significantly reduces the personal cost of employing a domestic carer. One suggestion that might be drawn from these sorts of indicators is that the existing literature may well underestimate the extent to which the use of paid domestic labour is a phenomenon not merely confined to sections of the elite.

Filipina domestic workers and the globalisation of care

An estimated 400,000 women from the Asian continent migrate annually, with the vast bulk doing so as well-educated, independent migrants. In the South-East Asian countries, the increased feminisation of transnational migration is associated primarily with the domestic service sector, and in the case of the Philippines, two-thirds of all female migrant workers are in fact domestic workers. Most are employed in the Asian NICs, the Gulf States and, increasingly, in Europe. 

During the mid-1990s, Saudi Arabia accounted for nearly a quarter of all Filipina foreign domestic workers employed overseas. In Singapore, of the 100,000 migrant domestic workers employed, an estimated three-quarters are from the Philippines. In Malaysia, Filipina and Indonesian female domestic workers increased in number from a few hundred in 1970 to about 70,000 by 1994 (see Shah, 1997: 31; Yeoh et al., 1999: 117; Chin, 1997: 353). In Hong Kong, less than a thousand Filipina domestic workers were employed during the mid-1970s. During the four-year period of 1990-1994, their number doubled to 121,000 and they appeared to 'monopolise' the occupation in Hong Kong, accounting for more than 90 per cent of all foreign domestic workers (Ozeki, 1997: 677-678). (2) In Rome, it is estimated that over 50,000 Filipino migrant workers are employed, with the 'overwhelming' majority of them concentrated in the domestic service sector (see Tacoli, 1999: 659).

The Philippines is a concentrated example of a labour-sending country that actively encouraged the expansion of foreign migrant labour markets. The government of the Philippines adopted low-wage female migration as a source of foreign exchange in response to structural adjustment and stabilisation policies, and to the economic slow-down faced by the Gulf States, which had employed many male migrants on large-scale construction projects during the 1970s and early 1980s. 

It is in part due to the work of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) that an estimated 4.2 million people from the Philippines are migrant workers, working in more than 130 countries and accounting for 6-7 per cent of the Philippines' population. Remittances account for the single largest source of foreign exchange (Government of the Philippines, 1995). The POEA encouraged college graduates and those with professional training to vie for placements, and established basic standards regarding pay, rest days and mutually acceptable contracts. While the contracts are not legally enforceable in receiving countries, the work and presence of the POEA has 'legitimised the culture of transient migrant labour' (Dias, 1994: 139). (3)

Despite the work of the POEA, one problem faced by Filipina migrants is the deception of illegal agents. Many arrive in receiving countries to find themselves without the necessary documentation, and consequently are outside even the minimal welfare benefits and protection of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) of the POEA. An example of this can be found in the POEA records for Singapore, which indicated the presence of 11,000 Filipina maids, when the Philippine embassy itself estimated the figure at nearer 80,000 (Yeoh et al., 1999: 131).

The regulatory regime in the receiving countries is designed to ensure that foreign domestic workers are a transient workforce. Legislation regulates the number of domestic workers allowed to work in a country, and the length of their contracts. Typically, this appears in the form of short-term contracts. In Singapore, housemaids are employed on two-year contracts, renewable to a maximum of eight years. In Lebanon, contracts last for a maximum of three years. In Malaysia, contracts are for two years, renewable to a maximum of an additional year (see Yeoh et al., 1999: 118; Abu-Habib, 1998: 54; Heyzer & Wee, 1994: 57). In Hong Kong, the contract period is normally two years (Ozeki, 1997: 681). In Cyprus, contracts are for two years, renewable by a maximum of another two years.

Immigration rules ensure that a visa is designed to be valid only for the period of the contract. If the employer dismisses a foreign domestic worker, this also deprives them of residency status. The objective of policy is explicitly to prohibit carers from changing employers. There are exceptions--for example, in cases where the employer is responsible for the termination of contract, such as in cases involving abuse.

Taking an employer to court for breach of contract, however, is a costly and lengthy process. For a migrant woman, supporting herself without a job is virtually impossible. Short-term contracts and temporary visas tied to particular employers constitute powerful constraints to job mobility, and result in the artificial depression of wages through the creation of a captive labour pool which primarily benefits employers.

Foreign domestic workers in Cyprus

A significant contextual explanation for the growing role of foreign domestic workers in Cyprus can be found in the direct and indirect effects of rapid economic growth and rising per-capita incomes. Cyprus experienced an 'economic miracle' during the period 1976-1984, which saw the expansion of tourism and the clothing industries.

These industries employed many Cypriot women, and the growth of full-time employment was a characteristic feature of the period of rapid economic growth. One indicator is that women represented over a third of all trade union members during the period of the 'miracle'. These trends have continued, and today women make up 40 per cent of the labour force. Another characteristic feature of economic growth has been rising per-capita incomes to levels associated with 'developed' country status. The current GDP per head in Cyprus, at Purchasing Power Parity (PPP), stands at $20,780, compared with the UK'S at $23,550 (Panayiotopoulos, 2001: 117-125). 

While there are parallel experiences, in the above case, with those of the East Asian NICs (such as Hong Kong and Singapore), there were also specific factors in the transformation of the Cyprus economy. One key factor was the break-up of the Republic of Cyprus, which began in the form of informal partition during the inter-communal violence of 1963-64, and arrived at a formal partition enforced by mainland Turkish troops in 1974. In total, something like 200,000 Greek and 65,000 Turkish Cypriots (approximately 45 per cent of the entire population) were displaced. These refugees, and in particular women refugees in southern Cyprus, were to provide the initial labour reserve for the expansion of the garment and tourism industries (Panayiotopoulos, 1992, 1995, 1999).

Small economies undergoing rapid economic growth are frequently characterised by tendencies towards production for export, and periodic labour scarcity. The southern Cyprus economy, as with the East Asian NICS, was pushed into production for export, initially in sectors such as garments and tourism, so as to gain advantage from economies of scale not otherwise available in a limited domestic market. One major limit to this model of growth appears in the perverse 'scissors effect' between relatively abundant export markets on the one hand, and the more limited supplies of labour available to a small economy on the other.

A not untypical condition appears in the rapid exhaustion of domestic supplies of labour such as rural-to-urban migrants, and women. Under such conditions of full or near-full employment, skill shortages become progressively apparent, and local workers show preferences for more desirable employment.

The factors outlined above converged with wider European trends towards an ageing population. Between 1960 and 1993, the number of people in Cyprus over 65 years of age increased from 6.4 per cent to 11 per cent of the total population. The ageing of the population is a reflection of declining fertility, indicated by smaller families, and diminishing the numbers of potential future carers.

This is indicated in the age/child ratio, which shows that while in 1985, there were 42 people aged 65 and over per 100 people aged under 15, in 1998 the respective figure was 47 (Republic of Cyprus, 1998: 180; 2000a: 17). The above trends, combined with widespread concerns about the quality of existing public and private-sector institutional care for the elderly, have been major factors in the expansion in the number of foreign domestic workers employed by private households.

The growing demand for foreign domestic workers, combined with labour shortages in manufacturing and tourism, created the conditions that have transformed the Cypriot economy from a labour-exporter to one that increasingly relies on immigrant labour. Immigrant workers made up 5.3 per cent of the labour force in 1995, and 7.2 per cent in 1998 (see Table 2). The official statistics exclude a small number of workers who have been driven underground by their lack of visas. A larger group consists of overseas students working their way through college.

Some estimates suggest that a larger proportion of the labour force (13.3 per cent) is made up of immigrant workers (Trimikliniotis, 1999: 143). Most immigrant workers are employed in a narrow range of sectors and in gender-sensitive ways, with over half employed in manufacturing, tourism or by private house-holds. Most women are employed by private households as maids and carets, or in the tourism sector as cleaners and kitchen staff.

These two sectors account for 71 per cent of all employment of immigrant women. Foreign domestic workers constitute over half (51.3 per cent) of all immigrant women employed in Cyprus (see Table 3). Very few of them are 'young girls', and amongst Filipina domestic workers, 95 per cent are over the age of 25, with one-in-five over the age of 40 (see Table 4). Most have had experience of working in other countries, but for many of them, Cyprus was a new destination.

Most government organisations in Cyprus seem to have little contact with foreign domestic workers. The Social Welfare Department carries out no systematic work among them; but at the same time, officials are aware of the growing significance of elderly care needs and the role of foreign carers. One official explained: Most of the domestic workers take care of elderly people or clean houses. In fact, I have a Filipina housemaid. It's not unusual amongst professional women. What is more common now is the care of elderly parents. 

The situation in Cyprus is that the elderly are a growing proportion of the population and the number of facilities are not sufficient to meet growing need. Popular estimations of services provided by the government and private sector are generally not favourable. Public sector under-funding, the lack of appropriate training for staff and poor infrastructure are frequently cited concerns.

These doubts about the quality of institutional care einforce prevailing ideas and social practices in Cypriot society about the household as the centre of human care, and in particular the care of one's own father and mother. The employment of domestic workers can in part be understood as a response by households to the evasion
of government. (5)

Foreign domestic workers are treated differently from other workers. According to officials from the Ministry of Labour and Social Insurance: The recruitment of immigrant workers involves the Ministry of Labour but in the case of domestic workers and artistes [euphemism for the sex industry] it is the concern of the Ministry of the Interior and the Immigration Office. Foreign workers in industrial establishments are covered by collective agreements. Amongst domestic workers the situation is different. They are not covered by any agreements. How can you reach collective agreement with up to 11,000 households who are employing domestic helpers? (6)

One significant factor that has impacted on immigrant workers has been a rising level of xenophobia. Greek Cypriot nationalists tend to be the most vociferous opponents of immigration. Periodically, moral panics orchestrated by right-wing newspapers and politicians are directed particularly at illegal immigrant workers. (7) Foreign workers are blamed for prostitution and drug-taking, and the view that Cyprus is being 'swamped' by an 'incurable cancer' is constantly advanced (Trimikliniotis, 1999: 151). This has impacted negatively on the treatment of foreigners generally, and of housemaids in particular.

This is reflected in the increasing number of cases of abuse reported by the media, such as the pregnant housemaid who was told by her employers to 'have an abortion in 24 hours', or face deportation. In another reported case, a Filipina housemaid was removed from her employer by the Immigration Service, following findings (unusually) from the Cyprus Intelligence Service that she was being mistreated. She was deported without the Immigrant Support Action Group being allowed to make representations. Immigration officials said 'the woman was deported, because she could not prove the allegations [and] it was government policy to deport the foreign workers in these cases'. 

It is not unusual for housemaids to be deported if they complain about their employers to the police. In many cases, this has involved complaints about abuse. A growing number of high-profile cases has forced the government to respond, and by the end of 2000, the Labour Office was dealing with about 150 cases, mainly involving disputes over hours, food and leave. (8)

The procedures for the employment of foreign domestic workers were investigated by the Ombudsman, who pointed to anomalies such as that while work permits for immigrant workers are approved by the Ministry of Labour and Social Insurance, permission is given directly by the Department of Immigration in the case of housemaids. Whereas immigrant workers can use the Ministry of Labour appeal procedures in cases of dismissal, the cases of housemaids are handled by the police, 'which investigate whether the housemaids have abided or not by the terms of their contract'. 

This 'discrimination against the foreign housemaids' prompted the Cyprus government to initiate 'immediate' measures to remedy the situation. (9) The government also made it mandatory, for the first time, for employers applying for work permits to submit contracts of employment specifying all terms and conditions, for inspection by the Ministry of Labour and by the worker prior to entry.

The climate of xenophobia has led to diminishing freedom for immigrant workers. In 1999, a moratorium on the further entry of most categories of foreign workers was introduced, which has been subsequently extended in three-month rolling periods. The exceptions were domestic workers, seasonal farm workers and employees of offshore companies. The introduction of the moratorium was punctuated by police sweeps on immigrants. (10) Contracts for domestic workers were limited to four years, whereas previously they were for seven years. Even stricter criteria for changing employers were also introduced. 

All foreign workers legally employed in Cyprus are now expected to leave Cyprus within fifteen days of their contract expiring. A government spokesman said that, in disputed cases, 'if the case is genuine, the foreign worker will go overseas and be allowed to return for court procedures'. Another sophism surfaced in the Ombudsman's Report for 2000, with regard to foreign workers' right to be reunited with their families, and specifically in the case of women being allowed to bring their under-age children to Cyprus.

This basic human right was vigorously resisted by the authorities until 2000, when legal amendments were introduced that allow foreign workers to reunite with their children after the completion of five years' residence and work in Cyprus. As the Ombudsman noted, 'given that most foreign workers are not allowed to stay and work in Cyprus for more than five years, the above legislation in effect precludes reunification with their families'. (11)

The regime for foreign domestic workers in Cyprus lies within a polarity. One pole is that violence has been documented in many cases, and there appears to be a consensus that participation in two particular occupations--domestic service and the entertainment-related sex industry--increases the likelihood of violence (see Shah, 1997; Trimikliniotis, 1999; Hughes, 2000). This includes the economic violence of agents who act as money-lenders, and of employers who delay payment; the psychological violence of long hours of work with little social contact; and in some cases, physical and sexual violence underpinned by the fear of deportation.

Another (and more prevalent) pole is the use of benign paternalism to structure relations. Households employing foreign carers may promote patron-client relations, such as through the advancing of loans and the granting of personal favours, and may encourage carers to behave like 'members of the family' and to take part in communal eating or leisure activities. Benign paternalism and patron-client relations also have important control functions. For example, they may make a worker more amenable to working longer hours, or to carrying out work not specified in their contract; or workers may take on illegal second jobs for in-household businesses, in contravention of their contracts; and in some cases, it may dissuade them from reporting abuse.

A neighbourhood study

This article draws on a study of a group of Filipina domestic workers employed by households in two working-class neighbourhoods in Larnaca, Cyprus (4). These neighbourhoods were once particularly poor, and provided many immigrants for the mass exodus which took place from Cyprus, mainly to London, during the late-1950s and early 1960s (Panayiotopoulos, 1990). The women were employed as 'housemaids', and care of the elderly was one of their many reproductive and other tasks. 

The research was prompted by empirical observations which indicated that, while ten years ago the employment of foreign domestic workers was a phenomenon confined to the upper classes and middle-class professional women, today their employment has spread to include work for sections of the working class. Domestic workers were visibly employed in working-class neighbourhoods in increased numbers, primarily in order to care for children and elderly parents. 

Practical examples included siblings, employed as lorry drivers, mechanics, construction workers, bank clerks and office workers, pooling resources to pay the paltry 200 [pounds sterling] monthly cost (150 [pounds sterling] salary plus 50 [pounds sterling] social insurance) of employing a domestic worker to care for elderly parents. Many of the elderly were widows. This held particular kudos for the siblings, who are held in high esteem by neighbours for 'not putting their mother in an old people's home'. The employment of foreign domestic workers allowed siblings, in many cases, to live in separate residences and avoid the day-to-day tasks associated with intensive elderly care; and to do so in ways that appeared culturally acceptable and, indeed, laudable.

The primary objectives of the study were to examine these initial observations, and to understand the relationships between domestic workers, carers, employers and agents. These relationships, of varying intensity, are illustrated diagrammatically in Figure 1. Another objective was to understand the role of the regulatory framework in the positioning of foreign domestic workers. This involved interviews and discussions with organisations that deal with immigrant workers: the Ministry of Labour, the department of SocialWelfare, the department of Immigration and Aliens, trade unions, the ImmigrantWorkers' Support Group (IWSG), and the Catholic Church.

The main purpose of the research was to collect oral histories that would complement academic analyses of the economic and social positioning of foreign domestic workers. In the two neighbourhoods surveyed, out of the 75[degrees] households on which information was gathered, thirty employed a live-in foreign domestic worker. All were women, and most were from the Philippines and Sri Lanka. My own residence was situated in one of these neighbourhoods, opposite a house where an elderly and chair-bound widow lived on her own and was being cared for by a Filipina maid. Her children lived elsewhere, and made fleeting visits. There was a steady stream of Filipina women visitors to the house, and my vantage point proved useful in meeting a group of domestic workers who were friends, and who introduced me to each other. Most worked within a mile's radius of each other and stayed in touch some by mobile telephone, but mostly through fleeting personal visits, except on Sundays when most of them had the day off.

A conscious decision made in the research was to avoid gaining access to workers through their employers, and to avoid interview them in their places of work. I estimated that information gathered in other waiting would be more likely to give me an accurate understanding of the conditions of domestic workers. This did create immense research problems, however, given the very long hours that domestic workers work and their lack of social space. An important resource for meeting domestic workers proved to be the local Catholic church and adjoining flea market, where many domestic workers congregate on Sundays in order to worship and to socialise.

Interviews with workers were conducted in English, and those with officials and social movement activists in Greek Cypriot. The period of research coincided with attempts by some of the women to establish an Association of Domestic Workers. A total of forty people were interviewed, of which twenty were Filipina domestic workers.

An ethnography: Voices of resistance

Personal histories are the product of complex relationships between individual foreign domestic workers and their collective experience, and between private households, agents, immigration officials and wider society (see Figure 1). The biographical accounts of carers offer insight into the labour regime that underpins market care. These accounts are also an attempt to compensate for the dearth of official knowledge about foreign domestic workers.

The absence of research and monitoring by the government of Cyprus, either about the conditions of workers or the quality of care provided, is in part driven by the unwillingness of govern-ment to regulate and interfere in the internal affairs of thousands of private households. An illustration of this is the Standard Employment Contract signed by foreign domestic workers in Cyprus, which stipulates that workers are entitled to private sleeping quarters, at least one day off a week as well as public holidays, and paid leave for up to a week. Yet the government itself concedes that there is 'no efficient mechanism to monitor this' (Trimikliniotis, 1999: 135).

Roza is 40 years old, and has two children in the Philippines. One is a daughter aged 21, and the other a son aged 19. She has been separated from her husband for ten years, and has worked as a domestic worker for nine years. Before that, she worked in the Bataan Export Processing Zone as a production worker in a garment factory:

"For seven years I worked in Saudi Arabia. The first job--as a maid for a Saudi military family--lasted three months.The seclusion in Saudi Arabia was a difficult experience. The walls of the house were higher than head height. The shopping was usually delivered through the bars of a garden wall and if we went out to do any shopping, I had to wear a heavy headscarf. The employers kept my passport. This was common. It was mainly due to the restrictive nature of social life in Saudi Arabia that Roza asked her agent to find her a job in Cyprus. This was as a live-in carer for an elderly widow. At the time, she was eighteen months into a two-year contract. The old lady suffered a major stroke that restricted her mobility, and she also had great difficulty in speaking.

The work was physically very demanding, and involved frequent heavy lifting. No lifting equipment was used. The widow was part of an extended family consisting of other adjoining but separate households. A male relative helped with some areas of lifting, but not when it came to bathing, going to the toilet, changing clothes and getting in and out of bed. Roza's employers are not from the upper classes, but are working class people. The four children whose mother was cared for by Roza put their money together in order to pay for her care. 

The elder son is a construction worker for the local municipality, and lives nearby with his family. The younger son works as a tour guide for a holiday company, and lives with his family a ten-minute drive away. Two daughters--one of whom lives in another town, and the other in England--do not work, and are both married to professionals. When the daughter comes on Sunday, then I can have the day off and go to church. Usually I am off from about 9am to 5pm. Sometimes she comes later than this, and other times she does not come at all. Sometimes they don't tell me whether she is coming or not! Then they expect me to work. When I do they pay me 7 [pounds sterling] --before, it was 5 [pounds sterling]--on top of the 150 [pounds sterling] I get paid monthly.
If you work it out, my salary is worth about 5 [pounds sterling] a day. The old lady sleeps from 10 o'clock at night to 7 in the morning, and you can say I am working 15 hours a day. This means that for seven days I work 105 hours a week, not 44, which is what it says in my contract. This works out at 33 cents an hour! It's a 24-hour job, though. My contract also says I should have Sunday off, and that I am entitled to 21 days' paid holidays, and another 13 for public holidays. I work these holidays, because I need the money. 

Last week, I was banned from jogging! Between seven and eight in the morning, I used to go jogging near Metro [a local supermarket] and meet up with other Filipinas. The younger son banned me from doing this, "in case something happened to mama". But I know what time she wakes up, and I am very conscientious. Usually he behaves in a civil way towards me. The older brother--who rarely comes to visit, although he only lives 200 yards away--never uses my name, and he and his wife always call me mavrou [black]. I am more fortunate than others. I have a room of my own to sleep in. My friend who looks after a retired teacher pensioner has to sleep on a settee in the sala [living room]. It's much worse for
those who work in bars and cabarets [cabarets are part of the sex industry]."

Since Roza had worked in the same locality for nearly two years, she knew the area quite well and had a wide network of Filipina friends. She and a group of between thirty and forty women (this varied) jointly rented a house near the Terra Santa Catholic church, which they used for Sundays and days off. It was a 'born again', women-only house, and most of them were members of the church choir. The house itself was (conveniently) situated opposite the church. Many of these women made frequent visits to Roza's house. They used to cook and chat, making a big fuss of the old lady who was visibly happy, as neighbours commented, 'to see some life in the house'. Roza introduced me to her friends, many of whom, like her, were looking after old-age pensioners in nearby working-class eighbourhoods.

The jogging continued, and this has brought Roza into conflict with members of the family. Their attitude is that she should not leave the old lady alone at any time. But in practice, this means 24-hour confinement. On two occasions, they have followed her. According to the younger son, 'she goes out of the house at five in the morning and then is picked up by a man in a car'. The elder son also followed her, and screamed at her to go back to the house. Two other events illustrated how relations with her employers were reaching breaking point: During the public holiday on the 28th of October, I worked and was not offered any additional money. In fact, nobody said anything. On my birthday, friends prepared some food in the house we rent on Sunday but since, unexpectedly, the daughter from Limassol did not come, I could not attend my own birthday party.

The accusations and counter-accusations between Roza and her employers were reaching a crescendo. The sons, in turn, complained that on three occasions 'she came back dead drunk' after a Sunday off and that, despite repeated requests, she leaves the old woman alone. They also suspect that 'she has men in the house' and that, despite doctors' orders, she took the old lady (who was suffering from a minor cold) for a stroll in her wheelchair. Roza's requests to the younger son for a minimum period of, say, one hour off each day in which to shop and buy the things she needs, were constantly met with a shrug of the shoulders and 'who will take care of my mother?' Roza has been told that they are looking for a replacement for her. Her requests to be released from her contract so that she might find another employer were met with a 'no'. The family's refusal to release her from the contract makes it impossible for her to find another employer and to secure a residency permit.

Under these circumstances, she would have little choice but to return to the Philippines; in effect, a deportation with due process of law. In preparation for this the family requested her passport, but Roza told them it was with the Philippine consul. She could, alternatively, counter that they have broken the contract. This would mean getting a lawyer to argue that, since the employers broke the contract, she should be given time to find alternative employment. She thought about approaching the consul of the Philippines in Nicosia, but was dissuaded from doing so by her agent (Mrs Maroulla Sofroniou).

One evening, Roza was in an agitated state: They [the family] came with Maroulla and brought a Sri Lankan woman with them. Then they told me to go and do some shopping. I went for a walk, but how can I shop? It was 2pm and the shops were closed. I asked him to release me from my contract and he said I must give him 500 [pounds sterling]. That's the security money. How can I do that? I only have 200 [pounds sterling] in the bank. They want somebody who is prepared to work every Sunday and not to have a day off at all.

The 500 [pounds sterling] is a deposit placed by the employer with the immigration office, in order to cover deportation expenses. The sum can be recovered by an employer if the worker finds another job, when the new employer places a similar amount, as a guarantee, with the office. In order to get another employer, however, the original employer has to sign papers releasing the worker from the original contract. The family were unwilling to do this, and were hell-bent on 'sending her to the Philippines'.

Roza made contact with a labour lawyer who worked for the Immigrant Workers' Support Group. They talked over the telephone and he asked for a description of her work, and in particular the hours of work. According to the lawyer, Roza was owed thousands of pounds for the hours she had worked above the 44 specified in her contract. He promised to take up the matter, and to make contact with her employers.

Lulu, Roza's friend who shared the same agent, commented on the events: This is what Maroulla did to me. She told me to "go for a walk" when I wanted to be released from my contract and threatened them that I would go to immigration. I also found that my bags had been searched. But I have my documents, passport, birth certificate and contract always with me. They were probably looking for Roza's passport. It's not with the consul--I have it.

Roza was sacked and asked to leave the house immediately. She moved into the house rented by her and other Filipinas in the neighbourhood. The family members had changed their mind, and were no longer demanding the 500 [pounds sterling] security money from her. They had also agreed to pay her two weeks' wages as a way of working out the notice. They went to the immigration office together, and signed the release document: The younger son told me that he won't say anything bad about me to Immigration, if I didn't either. At Immigration they told me that I have two weeks to find another job. In fact, Mrs Chora [a Filipina agent] has found me another job in a restaurant. I am worried because my contract says I am a 'housemaid' while my job is washing up dishes. I think I am working illegally.

Lulucilida (or Lulu as she is known to her friends) is 45 years old, and has five children between the ages of 16 and 24. Two of them are finishing high school. The last time she saw them was seven months ago. Her first six months working in Cyprus were described as 'hell'. Lulu worked in a taverna in the neighbourhood, working from 5pm to midnight preparing food in the kitchen, and from 7am to 2pm, mainly doing washing-up--a total of sixteen hours a day, and sometimes more, from Monday to Sunday. On Sundays, she worked from 1pm until midnight. 'I was supposed to look after the owner's mother at the same time! This was the reason why they employed me'. And while the job was supposed to have accommodation with it--the two top floors of the taverna are a residence--in fact, I had to sleep on the floor in the sala'. 

My problems began when my visa, which has to be renewed every six months, ran out. It is the responsibility of the employer to sort out your visa. This caused me a lot of insecurity. Also, you cannot open or use a bank account without a visa, which meant I couldn't send money back to my children. The employer said, "see your agent". I went to see my agent's representative in Cyprus [Mrs Maroulla Sofroniou] but she was no help--in fact, she told me to go and "see your employer"! So I went to the immigration office on my own. They asked me why I was working without a visa and told me to go and see the Labour Office, who then told me to go and see immigration, and things were going round and round.

Some of the immigration officials were approachable, but others took pleasure to see you suffering. When I went to Immigration, things got worse. The employers isolated me. They stopped me from seeing other Filipina friends and using the telephone. Also, some jewellery the old lady gave me went missing. For three days, they kept me in a room upstairs. They took turns to guard me so that I wouldn't leave the house. I was desperate. I managed at one time to get to the telephone and ring the Philippines consul in Nicosia, who rang the owners of the taverna and gave them a mouthful. He told them "this is kidnapping. I will get the police. Are you prepared to pay her fares to the Philippines or release her from her contract?" They agreed to release me, so it's easier to find work now.

Joyce is 43 years of age and is divorced, with four grown-up children between the ages of 18 and 23. The youngest and eldest are married, and she has four grandchildren. She has not seen her family for three years. In the Philippines, she finished high school and for two years studied Administration and Commerce at a vocational training college. The studies were discontinued because she found that looking after her children and full-time education proved too much to cope with. Her decision to work overseas was driven by pressing economic need. Her first full-time job coincided with her separation from her husband at the age of 28. 

The job was in a garment factory in the Lucan Export Processing Zone, owned by a South Korean company. In 1990 she decided to work as a housemaid, first in Hong Kong until 1997, and subsequently in Cyprus. In Hong Kong, Joyce was a founding member of an NGO campaigning for migrant worker's rights: My first job in Cyprus was working for a lawyer [Mr P.] and his family, looking after a six-year-old child and his elderly mother. I found this job with the assistance of my agent [Mrs Chora] (12). She teaches the Bible to us, sometimes for two or three hours at a time after church, in the house we rent. She heads a Catholic charismatic group, and we owe her a debt for bringing us here. But at the same time, she tries to control us.

Look, when I worked for the lawyer I came home on the 25th of December drunk, and he went mad. I hid in a cupboard, but he found me. He gave me fifteen days' notice and said that he was going to take me to the airport and send me back to the Philippines. He is a bigwig and has many contacts, as I discovered when I tried to get a lawyer later to contest his dismissal. No lawyer in Larnaca was prepared to represent me. "We are not going to fight
one of our colleagues,"
they said. 

He took me to Immigration and one man (called Markos) shouted at me "give me your passport", but I said to him "no, it's my personal property and the property of the government of the Philippines. I will only give it to you if you give me a receipt". He started shouting even more--"Don't be clever!" he screamed. CID also arrived, after Mr P. rang them. He was screaming he was going to "get me arrested". But this backfired on him, because they also had to take a statement from me. One lady officer stood up for me and said, "Look, this is a holiday. The 25th is a Sunday and she is entitled to this day off too. It's not a
crime to get drunk".
We have human rights too, although in Cyprus they do not understand what this means.

When I was faced with this crisis and I went to Mrs Chora, my agent, she said, "I can't help you. You have been a bad girl." If the employers have any problems with us, they go to Mrs Chora, who tells them that "if they go out and have boyfriends you must stop them". All the terms of our contract are broken by our employers, and there is a fantastic difference between what it says on paper and what happens to us. She says nothing about this. They try to ban us, grown-up women, from having boyfriends. This is not stated in our contracts. 

One of the reasons why Mr P. wanted to sack me was because I whistle while I work. Whistling by women in Cyprus is supposed to be disrespectful. This is not stated in my contract. Mrs Chora tries to control us. Not only does she agree with our employers, and runs the born-again group to control our minds, but also she controls the house we rent, the one opposite the Catholic church. About forty of us put 5 [pounds sterling] each per month for the rent, but her Cypriot husband has the tenancy. It is illegal for us to rent houses. He rents it from an ex-police officer who used to work for the Immigration department. I know that the rent for the flat is only 100 [pounds sterling] a month, so she makes 100 [pounds sterling]. We also put 60 cents each a week to buy the food we cook. Furthermore, we have to buy soft drinks from her. She charges 25 cents, which is the standard Metro supermarket price, but she buys in bulk so it's cheaper for her. 

Do you see what I mean? We are also controlled by our employers, by immigration and by the banks. One example is that we cannot open bank accounts, or deposit sums independently of our employers. The bank will ask where the money came from. Neither can we transfer money from our accounts to the Philippines without the say-so of the bank. We face
restrictions no other persons face in Cyprus. A tourist can open a bank account, but I can't without the consent of my employer. The local Catholic church holds a service in English on Sunday mornings, and this is well attended by immigrant workers. The service lasts from 9am until l0 am. The Father belongs to the Franciscan order, and has been in the post for eight years. Commenting on the relationships between housemaids and their employers, he said: Many employers love them and are very good to them. They bring them here. Some are not so good. 

There was a terrible experience in the Philippine community one and a half years ago. A coach trip from Larnaca to the Troodos mountains suffered an accident. Most were my parishioners; most were Filipina women I have known. even women died, and one child whose father is a Cypriot. I had to identify the bodies. There were so few men around that I had to help carry the coffins during the service held for six of them at Terra Santa. It was an unforgettable service. The bodies were taken back to the Philippines, paid for by the Social Insurance scheme to
which they contribute. Many more of the women--some fifteen of them--were badly injured, and couldn't work. Most of them were looked after by their employers. In two cases, however, they were dismissed (13).


In Cyprus, economic development created conditions in which a significant number of households responded to the growing demand for care for the elderly by becoming petty employers of immigrant women. The material above provides some illustration of how the labour regime and the day-today lives of immigrant women are shaped by the nature of the care regime. 

One revealing factor is that the care of elderly people typically appeared as one of many household tasks carried out by domestic workers. Few were employed specifically as carers, let alone as carets for the elderly. Most were employed as 'housemaids', and faced constant and sometimes difficult-to-predict demands on their time. The timing and kind of work carried out was often the product of informal processes of negotiation between individual workers and members of the employing family. 

Frequently, labour relations took the form of accusations that women domestic workers had 'boyfriends', or that they were 'ungrateful'. These ideas about sexual modesty are readily understood in Greek Cypriot society. Accusation, rumour and gossip should not be seen as ephemeral, nor as the product of cultural misunderstandings. 

Rather, they appear as key mechanisms of social control, which legitimise sanctions and the disciplining, and ultimately dismissal, of a worker. Accusations of 'immoral' or 'criminal' conduct were typically directed at women who refused to accept a process of infantilisation--a refusal that brought them into direct social and moral conflict with their employers and agents. Accusations and sanctions are often directed at women who refuse to comply with demands to carry out additional work not specified in their contracts, to work above their agreed hours, or to work on Sunday rest days, and so on.

The frequency of accusations tends to increase as the contract period nears its end, by which time workers have developed more confidence and knowledge about their circumstances, and are more likely to challenge their employers. Accusations of 'bad girl' behaviour often provided the initial justification for setting in motion a series of events leading to non-renewal or termination of contract, and deportation, with the primary purpose being the employment of new and more malleable carers (14).

The experience of Cyprus might offer insights into wider European trends and projections about future care regimes. Europe itself needs to import an estimated ten million workers in order to meet the care needs of its population over the next twenty years (15). Such indicators suggest that the transfer of reproductive labour, far from being a marginal phenomenon, may well be a necessary condition for the reproduction of modern capitalism itself.

Female migration from the Philippines to Cyprus and worldwide can be seen as a practical illustration of globalisation in the personal-service sector. In theoretical terms, the transfer of reproductive labour can be understood as a form of servitude. It is, however, very different to the servitude associated with the employment of young girls from the countryside by wealthy urban households: the labour regime in modern servitude is characterised by the commoditisation of reproductive labour itself, and the existence, in most cases, of written contracts involving the payment of pre-agreed wages.

It is underpinned by legislation on immigration, employment status and social security standards. Europe has in place extensive social legislation relevant to foreign domestic workers. One paradox of modern servitude is the coexistence of the most oppressive worker-employer relations with extensive social legislation meant to protect immigrant workers.

In order to understand why existing (let alone future) legislation is not applied to protect the welfare of foreign domestic workers, we need to investigate the institutional and ideological framework of support for the international transfer of care. The racialisation of foreign domestic workers in Cyprus (and elsewhere) is an important criterion for the selectivity of the institutional response (see Harris, 2002; Anthias & Lazaridis (eds.), 1999). 

The construction of ideas about racial and gender superiority, applied to women foreign domestic workers, is reinforced by the workers' lack of economic and social rights when compared with other people in the society in which they live and work. Short-term contracts and immigration controls ensure the creation of a monopolistic labour market that favours employers. 

The lack of citizenship makes women workers vulnerable to deportations, and also ensures a lack of basic political rights: they do not have the right to vote nor, in many situations, to form cultural or political associations. One sobering conclusion about free-market care regimes is that there is no democracy for foreign domestic workers. This raises major question marks over neoliberal assumptions about a benign relationship, in contemporary capitalism, between globalisation, democracy and human rights.

Table 1
Income of foreign domestic workers as a percentage of in-service country GNP per capita income (selected countries).

GNP Annual income of Economy as per capita domestic workers percentage in US$ of country GNP
Singapore 30,060 1,680 5.5%
Malaysia 3,600 1,800 50.0
Cyprus 13,000 2,700 21.0
Kuwait 24,700 1,200 5.0
Lebanon 3,560 1,200 34.0
USA 29,340 16,800 57.0
Italy 20,250 9,264 46.0

(Sources: Parennas, 2000: 566; Yeoh, 1997: 117; Chin, 1997: 377;
Abu-Habib, 1998 54; Panayiotopoulos, 2000). Per-capita incomes
are derived from the World Bank, 2000: Table 1.

Table 2
Immigrant workers in Cyprus by economic activity and as a proportion of all workers (000s) (as a percentage in brackets)

All workers Immigrant workers
Economic Activity 1995 1998 1995 1998
Agriculture 31,200 28,100 1,323 1,745
(4.2) (6.2)

Manufacturing 44,000 39,600 1,817 2,097
(4.1) (5.3)

Electricity, gas 1,400 1,500 2 4
& water supply (0.1) (0.2)

Construction 25,700 24,100 1,101 1,490
(4.3) (6.2)

Wholesale, retail 49,500 52,400 1,906 2,738
& repairs (3.8) (5.2)

Hotels & restaurants 30,100 30,000 2,713 3,288
(9.0) (11.0)

Transport 17,900 19,000 609 830
(3.4) (4.4)

Financial services 12,300 13,700 245 320
(2.0) (2.3)

Real estate & other 12,000 13,800 605 765
business (5.0) (5.5)

Public administration 18,200 19,800 19 33
(0.1) (0.2)

Education 13,300 15,200 314 361
(2.4) (2.4)

Health & social work 10,300 11,200 366 456
(3.5) (4.0)

Other community, social 12,100 12,500 346 633
& personal services (2.5) (5.0)

Private households 4,000 6,100 3,646 5,953
with employed persons (91.0) (97.6)

Gainfully employed 282.0 287.0 15,012 20,713
population for the (5.3) (7.2)
production of GDP

(Source: Republic of Cyprus (2000c) Labour
Statistics for 1998, pp. 42,75).

Table 3
Distribution of immigrant workers in Cyprus
by economic activity and sex (000s)
Both sexes
Economic Activity Number Per cent Male Female
Agriculture 1,948 8.7 1,574 374
Manufacturing 2,129 9.5 1,605 524
Electricity, gas 5 0.02 5 0
& water supply
Construction 1,525 6.8 1,492 33
Wholesale, retail 1,568 6.9 1,115 453
& repairs
Hotels & restaurants 3,156 14.2 815 2,341
Transport 260 1.1 132 128
Financial services 61 0.3 26 35
Real estate & other 337 1.6 165 172
Public administration 34 0.1 18 16
Education 408 1.8 149 259
Health & social work 432 1.9 36 396
Other community, social 448 2.1 332 116
& personal services
Private households 6,422 28.6 280 6,142
with employed persons
Not stated 3,803 17.1 2,839 964
Total 22,536 100.0 10,583 11,953
(Source: Information for 1999 made available
by the Statistical Service, Nicosia, Republic
of Cyprus, 30 October 2000).
Table 4
Immigrant workers in Cyprus by age and sex (000s)
Sri Lanka
Both Filipina
Age Sexes Female Male Female Female
0-19 484 317 167 18 30
20-24 2,739 1,663 1,076 129 291
25-39 13,109 7,154 5,955 1,724 1,939
40-54 5,102 2,489 2,613 466 766
55-59 345 90 255 3 5
60-64 160 27 133 2 0
65+ 52 8 44 0 0
Not Stated 545 204 341 0 0
Total 22,536 11,952 10,584 2,342 3,031
(Source: Information for 1999 made available by the
Statistical Service, Nicosia, Republic of Cyprus, 30 October 2000).


(1.) See Parrenas (2000: 566), Yeoh et al. (1999: 117), Chin (1997: 377), Abu-Habib (1998: 54), Panayiotopoulos, Fieldnotes, 7 November 2000. For the purposes of comparison with the costs of care for the elderly in the UK: an hour's local authority home care is costed at 8.50 [pounds sterling]; residential care is costed at approximately 242 [pounds sterling] per resident per week in an independent home, and at 380 [pounds sterling] per week in a local authority home. Nursing home care is costed at 337 [pounds sterling], and hospital care at 800 [pounds sterling] per resident per week (PSSRU, 1998: 101).

(2.) Much of this went into reverse following the economic crisis that swept across Asia in 1997. The firing of domestic workers was one of the first measures adopted by households in order to restrain expenditure. The POEA estimated that some 33,000 Filipina migrant workers lost their jobs (see Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, 'Asia-Pacific women grapple with financial crisis and globalisation', online at ). Wages for domestic workers in Hong Kong were cut, and the government indicated that it would have no hesitation in further reducing the minimum wage (see Financial Times, 24 December 2001, 'Maids and refugees haunt "mean spirited" Hong Kong').

(3.) Similarly, in Sri Lanka the Foreign Employment Bureau (FEB) pushed new markets for housemaids by being economical with the truth. For example, the FEB put out statements such as the following: 'Cyprus is the most popular country among foreign employ seekers now, where the pay is comparatively high and where harassment by employers is unheard of' (see Upali Weerasinghe, acting chairman of the FEB, quoted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1998, online at ).

(4.) The research was conducted between April and December 2000, and benefited from a period of sabbatical leave from the School of Social Sciences & International Development at the University of Wales, Swansea.

(5.) Mrs Avghi Charalambou, district officer, Social Welfare Department, Larnaca, 23 October 2000.

(6.) Mr Symon Pastou, district officer, Ministry of Labour & Social Insurance, Larnaca, 2 November 2000.

(7.) During the five-year period 1995-2000, a mere 1,200 illegal immigrants landed in Cyprus, of whom only forty were allowed to stay following intervention by the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). Following cases of mass deportations without any processing of asylum applications, the UNHCR criticised the southern Cyprus government for failing to live up to its obligations as a signatory to international conventions on political refugees, and did not feel confident enough to pass responsibility for the processing of granting asylum to the government of Cyprus until 2001 (see Cyprus Weekly, 16 February 2001, 'Government to take over screening of illegals').

(8.) See Cyprus Weekly, 15 June 2001, 'Fate of Indian couple in the hands of Labour Office'; Cyprus Weekly, 1 March 2002, 'ISAG claims denied by minister'; Cyprus Mail, 3 November 2000, 'Sexual abuse of maids is rife'; Cyprus Weekly, 1 December 2000, 'Abuse of maids continues'; Cyprus Weekly, 5 November 1999, 'Suspended immigration chief accused by anti-racism group'. The government of Cyprus reported to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination that during the period April 1994 to July 1997, 'there were no reports of racial discrimination brought either before a court of law or any other tribunal or authority' (see UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, report submitted by Cyprus, 25 July 1997, online at ). The report pointed to exceptions comprising certain complaints made to the Ombudsman by foreign domestic assistants, but such complaints were mostly related to terms of employment.

(9.) Cyprus Weekly, 9 November 2001, 'Ombudsman cites human rights abuses in her report'.

(10.) See M. Gavriel (2000), thesis proposal (University of Cyprus), 15 September, pp. 4-5. Trade union leaders legitimised this climate by arguing that foreign workers were taking jobs from Cypriot workers, and lowering wages. Analyses, some by trade union research officers, concur that immigrant workers do the jobs Cypriots do not want to do and, in the case of domestic workers, create employment by allowing local women to enter into full-time employment. Neither 'can foreign workers be held responsible for low wages paid in the sectors in which they are employed' (see goui Christofide & Panou Pasiardi, Haravgi, 1 July 2001, 'Epidrasis ton xenon ergaton stin kypriaki agora').

(11.) See Cyprus Weekly, 14 December 2000, '15 days to get out'. The round-trip cost of travelling from the Philippines to Cyprus is $750, according to Iliana Nicolaou, Cyprus Ombudsman, as previously cited (n. 9).

(12.) Agents in Cyprus ask for the equivalent of two months' pay (US$600) as commission from agents in the sending countries, and specify the total cost of placing a housemaid at US$1,000 (see G. K. Employment Agency International, Cyprus, in an advertisement in Cyprus Weekly, 7 December 2000).

(13.) Father Wilheim, Terra Santa church, Larnaca, 29 October 2000.

(14.) One leading Cyprus company, for example, informs applicants that 'people who worked in Cyprus before even I day and/or even 10-15 years ago are not acceptable any more' (see G. K. Employment Agency International, op. cit.)

(15.) The 20,000 Filipina nurses employed by the British National Health Service is one example (see James Buchan, 2002, 'International recruitment of nurses: United Kingdom case study', Royal College of Nursing, Edinburgh). Information provided by the UK Central Council for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting (UKCCNMHV) showed a 71.1 per cent increase in overseas-trained nurses applying to get on the UK register during the 12 months to March 2001. Of the 37,000 overseas nurses who came to work in the UK during 2001, only 8,000 were actually registered with the UKCCNMHV (see John Carvel, The Guardian, 4 May 2001, 'Influx of foreign nurses helps NHS'). An even larger number is employed in the private nursing home sector, where investigative journalists found Filipina nurses who had to pay agents up to 3,500 [pounds sterling] in fees, and hand over all their documents to them. The conditions of employment specified in contracts about pay, working hours and rest days were systematically ignored by employers. Some employers demanded exorbitant rents for very bad accommodation (see Daily Mirror, 29 March 2002, 'Exposed: Heartbreak of the nurses lured to slave labour chores in Britain').


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COPYRIGHT 2005 Conference of Socialist Economists
Copyright 2005, Gale Group. All rights reserved.


“There is no literate population in the world that is poor; there is no illiterate population that is anything but poor.” – John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006)
“One of the major errors in the whole discussion of economic development has been the tendency to look at the United States or Canada and say that this has worked here, and therefore it must work in the poor countries.” – John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006)

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