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A domestic worker, domestic, servingman, servingwoman, or servant is one who works, and often also lives, within the employer's household. They are distinguishable from serfs or slaves in that they are compensated, that is, they must receive payment (and, following labour reforms in the 20th century, benefits) for their work. They are also free to leave their employment at any time, although foreign workers may find these freedoms restricted by, for example, visa regulations. In large households, there can be a large number of domestic workers doing different jobs, often as part of an elaborate hierarchy. However, most such employees work in middle class households, where they are the only such employed individual.
Domestic workers take care of the household and its dependent members. They perform domestic chores such as washing and ironing clothes, buying foods and drinks, accompanying the head of the household for grocery shopping, cooking, and cleaning the house. They may also run errands and walk the family dog. For many domestic workers, a large part of their job is taking care of the children. If there are elderly or disabled people in the household, domestic workers may care for them as well.
Current situation around the world
Throughout the world, most domestic workers are from the same country in which they work. [How to reference and link to summary or text] They may live at home, though they are usually "live-in" domestics, meaning they receive room and board as part of their salaries. Because of the large gap between urban and rural incomes, and the lack of employment opportunities in the countryside, even an ordinary middle class urban family can afford to employ a full-time live-in servant. The majority of domestic workers in China, Mexico, India, and other populous developing countries, are people from the rural areas who are employed by urban families.
In Brazil, domestic workers must be hired under a registered contract and have most of the rights of any other workers, which includes a minimum wage, remunerated vacations and a remunerated weekly day off. It is not uncommon, however, to hire servants without registering them. Since servants come almost always from the lower, uneducated classes, they are sometimes ignorant of their rights, especially in the rural zone. Nevertheless, domestics employed without a proper contract sometimes sue their employers to get compensation from abuses. [How to reference and link to summary or text]
Domestic work and international migration
Many countries import domestic workers from abroad, usually poorer countries, through recruitment agencies and brokers because their own nationals are no longer obliged or inclined to do domestic work. This includes most Middle Eastern countries, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan. For most of these countries, the number of domestic workers run into the hundreds of thousands. There are at least one million domestic workers in Saudi Arabia.
Major sources of domestic workers include the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Ethiopia. Taiwan also imports domestic workers from Vietnam and Mongolia. Organizations such as Kalayaan support the growing number of these migrant domestic workers.
Employers may require their domestic workers to wear a uniform or other "domestic workers' clothes" when in their employers' home. The uniform is usually simple, and was even back in the 19th century and 20th century. Female servants would wear long, plain, dark-coloured dresses or a black skirt with a white belt and a white blouse or shirt, and black high-heeled shoes, and male servants and butlers would wear something from a simple suit, down to a white shirt, often with tie, and knickers. In traditional protrayals, the attire of male servants especially is typically more formal and more conservative, than that of those whom they serve. For example, in films of the early 20th century, a butler may appear in a tailcoat, while male family members and guests will appear in ordinary suits. In later portrayals, the employer and guests may wear casual slacks or even jeans, while the servant wears a jacket and tie.
Many domestic workers are live-in domestics. Though they often have their own quarters, their accommodations are not usually as comfortable as those reserved for the family members. In some cases, they sleep in the kitchen or small rooms, such as a box room, sometimes located in the basement or attic.
Notable domestic workers
Different domestic worker jobs
- Au pair (although arguably this should not be seen as a job)
- Butler, a senior employee, almost invariably a man, whose duties traditionally included overseeing the wine cellar, the silver, and some management of the other servants.
- Chauffeur (personal driver)
- Dog walker
- Handyman (household repairs)
- Horse trainer
- Housekeeper, a senior employee, usually female.
- Nanny (once known as a nurse)
- Personal shopper
- Personal trainer (fitness, swimming, sports)
- Pool person
- Secretary (social or corresponding)
- Security guard
- Stable boy
- Valet or gentleman's gentleman
- Wet nurse
- Yard crew
- List of digitized books on domestic workers in German, English, and other languages at de.wikisource
- Amnesty International paper on the abuse of domestic workers in the Middle East
- A Global Justice Center paper about domestic workers worldwide
- An international campaign for domestic workers' labour rights
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