Maid in China: Authorities to Keep Closer Watch on Housekeepers
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2017-07-17 14:02:13

Following several high-profile incidents involving housekeepers in China, 17 government departments have collaborated to more closely regulate the growing industry.

The stated goal of the new action plan, which took effect on July 10, is to improve overall service quality and satisfy growing market demand by stepping up oversight and punishing housekeepers’ misdeeds more seriously. Beijing has estimated that the country’s housekeeping industry — which includes cleaners, nannies, babysitters, and elderly caregivers — will contribute 40 billion yuan ($5.9 billion) to the domestic economy in 2017.

Specifically, the five-page document stipulates that companies providing domestic help services are advised to register with a new record-keeping system that monitors their performance. Complaints from clients can now be reported to a national database that tracks, among other things, a business’s creditworthiness and overall performance. The database will also compile statistics on individual employees.

The announcement follows a high-profile case last month in which a heavily indebted babysitter in Hangzhou, capital of eastern China’s Zhejiang province, set fire to her employer’s apartment. The year prior, a caregiver in the southern province of Guangdong was sentenced to death for poisoning and fatally strangling a 70-year-old woman because she thought her death, appearing accidental, might help her get paid sooner. And just last week, a babysitter with no prior experience or training in child care took her eyes off the toddler she was supposed to be watching in central Hunan province. She later found his body floating in the neighborhood pond.

Li Xiaoqun, a 47-year-old housekeeper who works for Miao Guanjia in Shanghai, told Sixth Tone that she had not yet heard about the new plan. “If our clients are not happy with our service, they can file complaints with our staffing agency,” she said. “They will keep a record of this, which I believe future customers will definitely check.”

The advent of the two-child police in January 2016 has put more pressure on working parents, many of whom have turned to external services for support. The action plan forecasts that there will be 28 million housekeepers in China by the end of 2017, many of whom come from poverty-stricken rural areas to big cities, attracted by higher salaries and living standards.

Staggering market demand has left the door open to illicit operations, and even professional service providers sometimes find themselves in a legal gray area. Li said she has seen her staffing agency hire day laborers who cost less than long-term staff. “The day laborers don’t have to sign contracts like we formal housekeepers do,” she said.

“I think setting up a credit system will definitely help the housekeeping industry moving forward and reduce the occurrence of negative cases in the future,” Xu Hongzhuo a lecturer to students majoring in home economics at Shanghai Open University, told Sixth Tone. “However, I also worry about how seriously the government hopes to regulate, how many cities will respond to the action plan, and how many enterprises will join the database proactively.”

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: A housekeeper scrubs a window during a domestic service skills competition in Xi’an, Shaanxi province, Oct. 24, 2011. Li Hui/VCG)