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The Social Setting of Female Migrant Domestic Workers

By the early 1990s, the migrant domestic worker had emerged as a prominent figure in Greek households and a key player in the service economy. Female migrant domestic workers became indispensable for personal care and family prestige, and they were recognized by the public not so much by the duties they performed but rather by their employment opportunities, personal relations, and social identities. This paper traces the ways and the means used to secure their consent to deference by examining their past and present conditions of work, the labor market, and their social status situation.

Introduction: The rise of "guest workers"

There were two distinct historical phases in the development of the migrant domestic service worker in Greece. Each of them manifested different regimes of workplace control, and in each of them, the job itself was accorded a different status. According to earlier studies of domestic service, the first period, 1960–1980, introduced classifications and regulations for new workers.1 Essentially, domestic service in this period was part of a broader international system of work and welfare organization, or what is usually referred to in short as "Fordism," a mode of organization of work and employment structured around the fragmentation of jobs and tasks associated with mass production and consumption (Castles and Kosack 1973, Brown 1999). What really distinguished this mode of organization was its emphasis on the state's organization of the physical and social reproduction of workers. The social ordering of family, welfare, leisure, and public consumption are only a few examples of this mode of organization. It was at this time that the guest worker or Gastarbeiter system of labor migration in Europe extended its range and came to include the movement of domestic workers (Psimmenos and Skamnakis 2008). Along with [End Page 43] workers of Turkish, Greek, Mexican, and other ethnonational backgrounds who worked in the manufacturing sector, Gastarbeiter service workers also increased in number and became a more visible part of public life. In the streets of London, Paris, and Frankfurt, as well as in hospitals, airports, catering businesses, and household services, more people of various ethnicities could be seen working as auxiliary and temporary labor. Cleaning, nursing, and similar activities were increasingly performed by immigrant workers to such an extent that this sector developed into a core element of the economy, becoming so important that it required state regulation (Mandel 1972; Gough 1979; Morokvasic 1983).

Despite scholarly debates and skepticism regarding the development of Fordism in Greece (Karamessini 1999; King, Lazaridis, and Tsardanidis 2000), its widespread influence on the regulation of migrant labor as well as on consumption and on social stratification became ever more evident. This came first through the institutional preparation and allocation of Greek workers as Gastarbeiter in various industries in Europe and second through the importation of migrant laborers, mainly from the Maghreb countries (Nikolinakos 1975; Koiliari 1997; Karasavvoglou et al. 1996; Maratou-Alipranti and Fakiolas 2003). The military junta in Greece (1967–1973), acting on behalf of international capital interests, including shipbuilding, shipping, and fishing, introduced the guest worker system in 1971 for economic and political reasons. In fact, the military spokesman at the time declared to Der Spiegel that Greece would soon be fully "Europeanized and turned into a Germany of the South" (Psimmenos 1998a; Psimmenos and Georgoulas 2002; Emke-Poulopoulou 2007). Based on bilateral agreements, the junta introduced a quota system for labor inflows from North Africa, the Middle East, and other countries that, politically or industrially, saw benefits in establishing relations with the Greek military regime (for example, the Philippines and Iraq).

Migrant laborers differed from Greek workers in terms of citizenship, welfare rights, work conditions, and job mobility opportunities. The legal pro-hibitions migrants faced curtailed their ability to change jobs, to apply for an extension of their work visas in the country, and to determine on the amount of money to be sent home.

Alongside migrant industrial manual laborers and as a part of the guest worker system, female and male migrant service workers also made their initial appearance in the Greek labor market. This was not of the same magnitude as what would happen in the 1990s, but almost as important. Women from Lebanon and Egypt were employed by hiring agencies to work in the cabarets of Athens as performing artists or escorts, while workers of both sexes (mainly [End Page 44] from the Far East and former African colonies) frequently worked as indoor domestic servants (Petronoti and Zarkia 1998). There were also a number of women from Europe registered as child caregivers or au pairs, although they were performing tasks similar or identical to those done by domestic servants. These included personal care, house maintenance, language instruction, and various other services like companionship (Cavounidis 2002; Maratou-Alipranti 2007). The social organization of personal services, in principle at least, was guided by a bureaucratized order of work. Official and public opinion in Greece, even to the present day, is more or less in agreement on the strict regulations that defined the place and social position of migrant workers. At least in public discourse during the first phrase in the development of the domestic service sector, it is possible to discern a sense of enthusiasm regarding migrant workers in comparison to today, as far as the control of migration flows is concerned. However, what truly distinguished that period of domestic service from the present was not so much the positives in terms of border control (there is ample evidence to the contrary), but rather its emphasis on civic and labor classifications. Migrant laborers were separated from indigenous workers on the basis of citizenship status, and their social position in jobs was determined according to their ethnicity and gender, as well as the agreements employers signed with the Greek government and private hiring agencies. The emphasis was rather on employment and the in-job status of migrant laborers in the country.

From guest workers to industrial refugees

The second period of migration of domestic workers to Greece extends from 1980 to the present. This phase was accompanied by a radical shake-up of social organization in Europe. As with most domestic workers in the past, the journey that led migrant workers to employment in Greek households began during a period of uncertainty associated with broad changes in the economy and society. This time, however, change was not related to mechanization, the breakdown of production time and tasks in industries (Beynon and Austrin 1994), the expansion of public services, or the establishment of a Gastarbeiter system that could facilitate immigration (Anderson 2000). Instead, the decades of the 1980s and 1990s were defined by deindustrialization, deregulation (Kalleberg 2006), the contraction of the welfare state (Morris 1994a; Anderson 2002), a closed-door immigration policy (Carmel, Cerami, and Papadopoulos 2012), and the rise of a personal service economy (Dedousopoulos and Koutsoukis 2011). In between, as Richard Brown explains (1997, 1999), industrial workers [End Page 45] in Europe experienced new control regimes that not only limited their mobility opportunities and increased unemployment but also permeated their collective operation and understanding of work and gave employers greater control over them. Factory closures, employee downsizing, and the rise of flexible/atomized modes of labor control have led, as labor historian Ben Pilmott argues (1985, cited in Hetherington and Robinson 1988, 202), to the development of an invisible class of people who are identified not so much by their poverty as by their social and political isolation. Job losses and work deregulation were followed by a decline in labor organizations (Strath 1987), a shift in workers' identification with a skill or a task, a loss of workplace camaraderie, and a wider set of relationships that helped workers understand their worth in society and established a connection between their place of residence and their place of employment (Ashton and Maguire 1994). Traditional gender and ethnic roles in work and employment returned, most notably for women in domestic service (Morris 1994b; Allen and Wolkowitz 1987; Wolkowitz 2006). Alongside these changes, there was also a shift from an impersonal to emotional and private control that employers could exert over their workers (Felstead 2001; Felstead et al. 2007).

In places like Northeast England during the 1980s, the main employment opportunities for working-class women were in the traditionally female service sector, in which 60% of the labor force were women working in catering, as self-fillers, caretakers, school helpers, domestic staff, and the like. Others found employment as part-time workers (approximately 60% of the entire labor force), as nannies or household domestic servants, who were in high demand in the south of England and in Southern Europe (Robinson 1988; Bradley 1997; MacDonald 1997). At the microlevel, everyday life for many women in Gateshead, Craddas Park, Newcastle West, or Byker and Jarrow to the East of the River Tyne focused around standing in line outside Oxfam or the Salvation Army centers for food relief (Hetherington and Robinson 1988), waiting outside of job centers, or milling around unlicensed street markets, pawn shops, and money lending stores. At times, these looked like scenes straight out of Dickens. The closures of many shipyards, including Swan Hunters at Mockton, of mines, such as those at Bolton, Marley Hill, or Brenkley, and of coke works, like the ones at Hebburn and Mockton, were followed by land redevelopment, the demolition of factories and council flats, and the construction of studio apartments and shopping centers as part of urban gentrification. The situation was such that "few now worried," as Huw Beynon (1997) explains, for the spelling of Gemeinschaft or Gesellschaft (that is, community/society forms of association), since most people seemed to live a life slumped in front of television sets, to [End Page 46] queue for a job-share in Eurodisney, or to spend time outside off-license and take-away shops.

Rose, a sixty-two-year-old nanny and maid in Greece from Northeast England, described those years and her "choice" to emigrate in this way:

Since the end of the Miners' Strike [1985] everything changed. I lost my job as a production worker in a tire factory [in Team Valley]. … I then worked as a shop assistant, for a few months, as a kitchen porter and I did some laundry work. … Nothing helped. We were about to lose our home to loan-sharks and we [she and her husband] couldn't even pay the TV license and other home expenses, let alone pay for our benz. So we decided to leave for Greece—my husband was Greek.

In Albania and in the other former socialist countries, feudal-like practices returned, and under the rhetoric of "civilization" and "fiscal accountability," religious leaders, government officials, and IMF and EU experts enforced a combination of "caste" and "class" work organization, "colonial pedagogy," and market-oriented policies (Pandolfi 2002, 208; see also Mai 2002). People were turned into "humanitarian hostages" of Brussels, Athens, Rome, and Paris, and, as Nicholas Mai explains, the government of Albania promoted the "disempowering of democracy" (2002, 224). This was achieved through the imposition of work regulations, neoliberal social and fiscal policies based on an entrepreneurial, colonizing understanding of the country's future. One migrant from Korca, who worked as a nonresident domestic servant in Athens, explained why she left Albania:

[I] came [to Greece] in 1993. … Together with my husband we lost everything there. I have studied engineering and during the Hoxha regime I was working in the petro-chemical industry. … When I lost my job we invested almost everything in money brokering [that is, a pyramid scheme]. With the collapse of this "scheme" all our money vaporized. We had nothing left. Without a job and a house we could only leave.

(Olga, 42 years old; Psimmenos and Skamnakis 2006, 224)

With the exception of poverty, as Fatos Lubonja (2002) explains, women were affected even more by the collapse of the social organization of their lives, which had been based on residential and kinship bonds. The social support system that woman had relied on previously was fraying. The transition of the economy and of politics from socialism to postsocialism meant not only the destabilization of agrarian and ancillary jobs in the countryside but also of the social structure and status of families and individuals (Psimmenos and Kassimati 2006b). Similarly, in other postsocialist countries, the rise of oligarchies [End Page 47] and the breakup of labor collectivities meant that workers, and especially women and children, were more vulnerable to various forms of exploitation (Carter, French, and Salt 1993). At the same time, there were major changes in the provisioning of social welfare. The number of children in daycare centers in the former USSR, for example, fell from 67% of the total population in the 1980s to 2% in 1996; subsidized food provisions fell from 28% in the 1980s to 10% in 1996, and rent-rebates from 28% to 10% in the same period (Kivinen 2006, 279). But as Robert Miles argues, the road traveled by women leaving former socialist countries was marked not only by poverty but also by an increase in "primitive forms of accumulation of labor power, the loss of money's bargaining powers and the rise of forced labour" (Miles 1993, 461; see also Eyal, Szelenyi, and Townsley 1998; King and Szelenyi 2004).

Although poverty was socially significant—in the early 1990s, 13.5 million families with children were estimated to live below the poverty line in the former USSR (Therborn 2006)—it was not the sole cause for the mass exodus of women and children from their homelands. The severity of the changes in their work and employment conditions, together with the collapse of labor collectives, was such that life became much harder, especially for women (Kassimati et al. 1992; Kassimati and Mousourou 2007). This was most evident in the cash nexus orientations that shaped women's roles and positions in society (Lazaridis and Psimmenos 2000; Psimmenos 2013), as new gendered hierarchies in the then-rising cottage economy (Lazarescu 2014) and in the new black economy developed (Xypolitas 2013). Roxana from Ukraine remembers:

I came to Greece in 1996 [in November]. I have studied medicine. I worked for a year in various jobs [in Ukraine] to cover additional expenses, essential to raising my child. … From the time the Soviet Union collapsed it was very different. Most industries closed, we were without a job. Apart from this I am raising my child alone (I was separated). And if … you cannot provide the necessities a child must have (e.g. clothing, food, etc.) you are forced to think of something, to go on and find a solution in order to raise your child

(Roxana, 45 years old; Psimmenos and Skamnakis 2006, 392).

The rise of "migrant jobs"

Certain jobs in Greece today are mostly reserved for migrants. This is in contrast to previous labor practices, which mainly distinguished migrants or ethnic minorities from other workers on the basis of their employment conditions and citizenship rights rather than types of work (Psimmenos and Georgoulas 2002; Kanellopoulos, Gregou, and Petralias 2006). At first glance, certain jobs [End Page 48] can easily be identified today as so-called immigrant work, because, after all, the majority of workers (if not all) who make up the labor force in these economic activities are migrants. Male migrants are mostly concentrated in home repair, farm labor, construction, and all kinds of other unskilled jobs—for example, delivery, removals, and garden-pruning. There are, of course, further task divisions and subdivisions of these jobs according to immigration status, ethnicity, and age, or the number of years workers have been in the country. Pontic Greeks from the former USSR, Poles, Romanians, Bulgarians, and Albanians are usually employed in home repair and construction, working as assistants, performing heavy, manual duties under Greek supervisors (Kassimati et al. 1992). For example, in road building, the handling of heavy machinery is limited to Greek workers, while immigrants are usually tasked with digging with picks, pouring concrete or asphalt, and carrying the tools for Greek technicians. On the other hand, Pakistanis and Indians are usually employed in intensive farming and are divided into separate labor squads on the basis of the skills they possess and their own social networking (Lianos, Sarris, and Katseli 1996; Vaiou and Chatzimichalis 1997; Kassimis, Papadopoulos, and Zacopoulou 2003). They are often hired by farm tenants to tend to crops that require a large amount of land and subsidized labor. In what amounts to a form of indentured labor, they perform backbreaking tasks like hoeing and picking, often laboring from dawn until dusk, all the while living on the farm and being paid in kind with food, clothing, and a place to live rather than in cash. In the past, most of this farm work was carried out by the farmer's family, hired labor, and other ethnic groups—for example, Roma, Muslim Greeks, and refugees (Petrou 2005, 2008, 2012).

Women migrants, on the other hand, are usually employed in the leisure and sex industries, as cleaners, and in a variety of domestic services (Anderson and Phizacklea 1997). In combination with these jobs, or as a sole type of employment, women also make up the major labor force in services related to the tourist industry, such as dish washing, ironing, laundry, and waitressing. In the past, most of these duties were almost exclusively reserved for native Greek women, who were internal migrants, single parents, or young girls from large families, and Gastarbeiter workers in the 1970s (Hantzaroula 2012; Bada and Argyrou 2013). In the early 1990s alone, female migrants were almost half of the immigrant labor population: 1 in 12 employed persons in Greece in 1994, or 6 to 6.3%, according to the 1991 population census as estimated by the Organization of Co-operation and Development (OECD) (SOREMI 1995; Baldwin 2004a, 2004b). The majority of these women—over 80%, in fact—were employed by private households as caretakers, cleaners, and companions or child minders (Baldwin 2004c; Maratou-Alipranti 2007). [End Page 49]

For the relationship between domestic work and ethnicity, survey research has consistently shown that employment and task divisions among women migrants are quite distinct. Ukrainian, Russian, Ethiopian, Georgian, and Filipina women in Greece are usually employed as live-in domestic workers (Anderson and Phizacklea 1997; Papataxiarchis, Topali, and Athanassopoulou 2009; Maroukis 2010), whereas Albanians, Romanians, and Polish immigrants are more commonly employed in nonresidential and occasional domestic work as servants, washer women, or service assistants at parties, or in cleaning agencies that service public or private buildings. Immigration status, age, and other social determinants distinguish and separate domestic workers' tasks and employment conditions, complicating further the social standing of women in the labor market (Kambouri 2007; Kassimati and Moussourou 2007a, 2007b; Thanopoulou 2007). Younger, undocumented women, as well as those with fewer years of residence in the country, are usually at the bottom of the occupational ladder, performing the most tedious tasks in conditions over which they have little say. Domestic service has thus become a multivariate type of work. Domestic workers are distinguished not only along ethnic lines but also on the basis of the type of work they do, the terms of their employment, and the social status attached to their jobs (Vassilikou 2007; Psimmenos and Skamnakis 2008; Fouskas 2012; Xypolitas 2013; Lazarescu 2014).

Both men and women migrants are also concentrated in begging or a variety of street-jobs, such as selling goods and services in open markets or in congested urban places. Certain goods are sold primarily by immigrants from certain ethnic groups. For example, the sale of both manual tools and cigarettes are mostly reserved for migrants from the former communist countries, while the sale of clothing, fashion items, fruit, or bottled water is usually performed by Chinese, Nigerian, or Asian vendors.

The growth of the personal service industry

Virtually all of the jobs discussed above have certain common features that merit further analysis. In Greece, considerable care has been taken so far to assign numerical values to these jobs, while focusing more on the rate of growth and labor force composition. Regrettably, less data is available on the social stratification, mobility options, and values that define migrant jobs and workers' social status. There is a paucity of studies on the material and symbolic aspects of migrant employment classification. This paucity is exemplified further in a broad acknowledgment by part of the research community that migrant jobs reveal more levels of social integration than generic (ascribed social and physical characteristics) and class attributes. Exceptions to this are [End Page 50] a series of research studies conducted since the early 1990s on the objective and subjective factors that constitute a migrant's job.2 Most of the social characteristics that define migrants' jobs in these studies are identified by three basic elements. The first relates to the restricted nature of the type of employment. Although migrant jobs are classified as casual, undocumented (King, Lazaridis, and Tsardanidis 2000), or even unskilled (Vaiou and Chatzimichalis 1997) with good justification, there is still room for debate about these categories. Migrants are involved in a wider process of exclusion that defines and allocates jobs in accordance with what is permissible and socially acceptable. This is usually a forgotten element in migration studies, although it underlines the fundamental framework of today's job stratification in Greece. Along with ethnic, gender, and other ascribed or inherited variables, "who does what" also depends on the social boundaries produced by external and internal migration control (Psimmenos 2012a). In most scholarly analyses, the above reality is represented by the use of different labels like "margins," "informal," or "shadow economy." Inevitably, most recognize that migrants comprise the labor force that officially or unofficially, much like forced labor, is pushed to perform what is allowed and what is believed to be most appropriate in terms of the status, customs, and personal needs of the indigenous population (Triandafyllidou and Gropas 2007).

External controls—such as a zero tolerance policy toward asylum seekers, restricting borders, preventing family reunification, and rationing work permits—unduly narrow migrants' chances of transitioning from undocumented to documented status, and this diminishes their employment opportunities (Campani 1993). The common assumption that migrant status is objectively characterized by a lack of skills is only a figment of the collective imagination; in fact, most research to date indicates the opposite. The building of a so-called Fortress Europe and the Greek government's reluctance to implement muchneeded humanitarian policies for new migrants are partly responsible for the growth of undocumented labor. They are also responsible for the growth of smuggling, trafficking, indentured labor, and many other forms of slavery. On the other hand, migrants' occupational mobility is further restricted by internal controls in the form of welfare, naturalization rights, education, and residential policies (Psimmenos 2012b). This effect is probably the most important finding in sociological research to date; it explains, for instance, how the nonrecognition of migrants' qualifications or past employment experiences on the part of educational and social security agencies can weaken migrant workers' bargaining position. This pushes workers to abandon job skills they have acquired through past experience and to accept "horizontal" job clustering (Kassimati et al. 1992) based on social and personal characteristics. [End Page 51]

The padrone work system and employer

The second element of work regulation relates to the so-called padrone system of employment. One of the most coercive aspects of a migrant's job, which is usually overlooked by research, is the type of employer and the set of values and rules that predominate in specific job sectors. In the history of labor migration, the padrone (or padroni) employer was an important figure, especially at times when the entry of immigrants into a country was difficult and the state imposed restrictions on employers regarding foreign contract labor. These employers were usually identified as smugglers and labor contractors who provided migration passages and secured employment for individuals in exchange for personal and work deference (Kraus 1970). Padrone-type employers have been associated with coethnic or work group affiliates and with certain industries (Hutt 1933). Apart from finding jobs, they have supposedly acted as moral guides, masters, and work instructors, as well as go-betweens, liaising with authorities while purportedly representing and looking after the interests of migrant workers in the Greek labor market.

Since the early 1990s, research on Albanian construction work, the sex trade, and domestic workers in central Athens has shown that these types of employment are organized around physical, social, and work-related dependencies that produce and maintain migrant workers' subordinate place and social position in Greek society (Psimmenos 1995, 224; Psimmenos 1998b; Psimmenos and Kassimati 2006a, 2006b). In terms of physical dependencies, the padrone system is mainly exercised through the manipulation of travel documents, the securing of lodging, food, and clothing, or other essential items for workers' survival. Concerning social dependencies, the padrone secures the submission of migrant workers through the enforcement of cultural and moral patronage. This usually involves the employer acting as a spiritual guide, a godfather, a fictive kinsman, a protector, or even as friend—and thus as the person responsible for the migrant's well-being (Psimmenos 2013). In regard to economic and employment issues, the regulation of work in this system is founded on employers' and padrones' successful control of information about jobs and wages. Accordingly, workers have to go through a labor agent to find work; this limits their options and renders them vulnerable to exploitation.

Worker adaptation

All of the above forms of paternalism are constructed, as research shows, in direct reference to cultural and social affiliations. They serve as indicators which mark the lines of migrant jobs. However, it was only when different occupations [End Page 52] were compared (for instance, between construction and sex migrant workers or domestic workers) that differences in the modes of employment and their social significance for migrants were revealed. This leads us to a third characteristic of work regulation, which brings to the fore the importance of job organization and ethnic-gender identities.

In construction-related jobs, for example, workers agree to certain conditions in order to obtain apprenticeships, which they need in order to become independent builders or technicians. Learning a trade, social networking with contractors, developing contacts with suppliers, or even inheriting the business are all things workers achieve as apprentices, but the trade-off is their compliance with harsh conditions of apprenticeship (Psimmenos 2012a, 2012b).

However, at a deeper level of analysis, the influence of the division of labor and the ways employers control their workers makes itself apparent in the occupational identities and the roles that workers adopt for themselves. Experienced migrant construction workers develop a kind of specialization, as it were, and not only in technical or business-related matters. Employers, through their actions, seem to reinforce what appear to be ethnic and cultural stereotypes regarding who holds certain kinds of jobs, exacerbating immigrant workers' isolation and creating competition among them. This leads to a gen-eral understanding that who is considered a "good worker" is not unrelated to workers' backgrounds in terms of skill level, ethnicity, and immigration status (Psimmenos and Kassimati 2006a). For example, the preservation of ethnicity as a marker of who are hard workers, as in the case with Polish laborers, or of those who have skills more suited to certain jobs, as in the case of Albanians and stone-cutting or of Polish workers in road building and maintenance, is of vital importance to migrants' career prospects in Greece. This may seem beneficial for workers whose relationship with the Greek society and whose situation in the Greek labor market depends heavily on a form of subordination that magnifies their usefulness through their possession of traditional skills in a rather modernized context (Chtouris and Psimmenos 1997; Psimmenos and Kassimati 2006b).

In the sex work industry, an employer's ability to control a new immigrant woman depends on establishing a (usually sexual) relationship with her, physically abusing her, and restricting her ability to leave. Gaining a degree of freedom depends mostly on her performance, her demonstrating psychological and physical deference, her displaying trust, and various other factors. However, workers are seduced by employers into continuing in this kind of job through promises that they will eventually obtain another line of work (Anderson and Phizacklea 1997; Psimmenos 1998b). [End Page 53]

Again, as with the case of construction workers, segregation and isolation play a powerful role in dominating and controlling women in sex work. These workers are pushed to develop a sense of belonging to the trade through punishment-and-reward techniques that combine psychological and physical abuse with emotional bonding. Above all, however, pimps and customers demean these women on the grounds of their ethnicity. In this way, women from certain backgrounds become stereotyped as whores and are therefore treated differently. Matching job requirements with ethnic backgrounds is not an easy process, but the employer manages this by following a progressive system of domination, varying punishments and rewards and at the same time continuously diverting the market of sex work and the expected prestige and discretionary powers given to workers (Psimmenos 1995). For example, different levels of deference are expected by the employers of those workers who come late and those who come early, and the degrees of dependency—or so-called freedoms at work—and of personal autonomy differ for women in the same jobs in street-level soliciting, in houses, in the escort business, or in massage parlors and clubs. Within different markets, one learns new career roles and accommodates new forms of obedience which remind one that nonconformity threatens a person's return to the initial stage of job or another market. In each of these markets, commercial value and social status amongst workers and customers seem to depend heavily on the ability one has to transform body and social characteristics into a recognized value or asset. A failure to do so increases internal competition, higher levels of obedience, and the risk of seclusion from coworker solidarity and protection networks.

Controlling domestic workers

Regarding Greek domestic servants, the innovative research of both Konstantina Bada and and Effie Argyrou (2013) and Pothiti Hantzaroula (2012, 2013) have shown the importance of gender and affective bonding in regard to how employers control their workers and why women submit to it. The domestic work of migrant women is regulated in a like vein. A number of factors lead to the subordination of domestic workers in Greek households and to their tacit compliance with it. As Efthimis Papataxiarchis, Penelope Topali, and Athina Athanassopoulou (2009) and Theodoros Fouskas (2012) explain in their respective studies of Filipina domestic workers, one of these factors relates to the communal consensual work orientations they develop. Some scholars suggest that control is a cumulative effect of the ethnic, gender, and personal aspects of work, which, despite its exploitative nature, legitimates the services produced [End Page 54] and the roles workers and employers assume in the household. The social background and community relations in the home country prepare and make possible the job stratification of Filipina women in personal services in the receiving country. Domestic workers' acceptance of their work duties reflects their deeper understanding of the job as almost a supposedly natural continuation of a woman's role in Filipino society. For a Filipina woman, being a domestic worker is seen as a remnant of the social values and practices in her country of origin, or as a fundamental way of life that follows her as she migrates to a new country. The persistence of this idea is reinforced by the influence and power of the Catholic Church and by the workers' family and communal associations. In particular, Fouskas (2012) indicates in his study that the contribution of social institutions (such as family) to workers' deference to employers is such that gender and class are fused with the performance of domestic service in the adopted country. As Leodinito Canéte (2001) explains in his study of the same ethnic group, the experience of domestic work among women functions as an essential marker of their ethnic and gender identity and their cultural value system, merging together work as an economic activity undertaken for survival and work as a source of self-worth. But although these social attri-butes help women to secure employment in domestic service, they also predis-pose women to accept the workplace conditions imposed by their employers (Papataxiarchis, Topali, and Athanassopoulou 2009). With few exceptions, the so-called padrone-type of employer bases his power not only on providing social protection but also on fostering workers' emotional attachment to their household duties. A maternal-housewife and female-centered relationship between employers and workers is manifest in domestic work, obscuring the mode of employment and habituating the worker to her job. Similarly, other studies, such as those of Eleni Kambouri (2007), Koula Kassimati and Loukia Moussourou (2007), and Maria Thanopoulou (2007), have also shown a connection in workplace regulatory practices between employer-employee, gender-related bonding and deferential behavior. The latter is often understood by workers as part of their emancipation, as opposed to their subordination to the dictates of an employer. Such forms of bonding between domestic workers and their employers, however, diminish older personal relationships, while creating new ones based on a different value system. In this regard, Fouskas (2012) reminds us of the important role that work and employment conditions play in distancing women from their previous social networks and creating strong attachments primarily with their employers in their workplace.

However, employers' control over domestic workers is an outcome both of the increasing detachment of workers from their families and communities and [End Page 55] of their internalizing new values imposed in the workplace. As Kassimati and Mousourou (2007) explain, mutual antagonisms between workers as well as segregation, exploitation, and other forms of domination produce insecurities that push workers to identify with members of the household in which they work. In her study on female migration and human rights, Katerina Vassilikou (2007) attributes the power of employers to the new responsibilities workers have as they try to secure a living for themselves and their families, as well as to new vulnerabilities related to the nature of their job. Among these, as Vassilikou (2007) points out, are various physical and emotional conditions that intensify the longer workers are employed. The more time spent in the same job or with the same employer, the more vulnerable the worker becomes. This vulnerability is produced, on the one hand, by the social position immigrant women occupy in Greek society, which pushes them to become even more dependent on their employers. On the other hand, domestic work duties and the values attached to them produce individual and social vulnerabilities—or latent vulnerabilities, as they are sometimes called—that further destabilize their self-esteem and amplify their subordination. It is this second type of vulnerability that, according to Vassilikou and others, turns an immigrant woman into a domestic servant.

This is best illustrated by Nikos Xypolitas (2013) in his study entitled "Live-in Ukrainian Domestic Workers." He argues that workers' experience of physical and emotional separation from their families not only disrupts their social relationships and interpersonal solidarity ties but also creates large intervals in roles and personal affiliations. These gaps in their social lives, as Xypolitas explains, are filled, at least temporarily, by the new employer and his family. "Pseudo-family" relations of this sort produce a sense of reciprocity and security because domestic workers perform tasks and duties normally done by family members, who look out for one another's well-being. These pseudo-family relations can be divided into three interconnected types. The first type refers to tasks and roles associated with housewives as the household's primary caregivers. An increasing level of work discretion leads workers to identify further their work as being an extension of their own personal character and ambitions in life. The second type of bond relates to the performance of maternal roles and duties. Domestic workers provide care that is expected of the mother figure, but they do so for their employers' families rather than their own, and this strengthens their bond with their employers. But, as Xypolitas (2013) notes, domestic service and workers' subordination are defined not only by what is missing but also by what is "made" out of emotional affection and obligations during work. Taking care of dependents creates the third type [End Page 56] of social bond, which relates to providing care for children and the elderly. Bodily contact, familiarity, and mutuality transform services into parental care, complicating further workers' ability to distinguish between professional and personal duties.

Both studies cited above remind us that workplace subordination is based not only on what is missing in workers' lives but also on what fills the gaps created by the solitary nature of their jobs or by what has been designated by workers or employers as necessary in life. Understanding the coercive element present in the lives of domestic servants is essential, but it is only one aspect of workplace regulation. The other side describes the mechanisms by which women comprehend and internalize the customs, values, and expectations that domestic work creates. As in many other jobs, work regulation rests on values which reflect ways of living that seem attractive or more suitable for particular workers. This is exemplified further in case studies of residential and nonresidential Albanian and Ukrainian domestic workers' relation to state welfare services (Psimmenos 2006; Psimmenos and Skamnakis 2008; Psimmenos 2011). As these studies showed, work regulation primarily rests on a system of welfare stratification and mobility patterns. These patterns are associated with the informal economy and the prevailing social values. Controls in state welfare and the segmentation of the labor force into different welfare groups lead workers to accommodate distinctive rules, habits, and ideas concerning social protection (for example, on health, insurance, and early school care) that sanction informality and paternalism.

In an earlier publication (Psimmenos 2007), the above was described as a learning process by which women learn to accept employment in the informal economy, to evade paying taxes on their wages or purchases, and to value generally a cash-for-welfare way of life. However, to understand this learning process and the values it produces, one should focus on the structure of the jobs and the nature of migrant women's welfare needs. In relation to this, as the study showed, welfare differences in the jobs held by live-in and live-out domestic workers produced greater or lesser degrees of dependence on their employers. During the early stages of domestic work regimentation, workers' well-being was defined in a material sense. Workers were ready to accept control over their lives in return for income and room and board. After ten years in service, however, workers no longer saw survival as a priority. Instead, they came to identify their well-being more with their ability to distance themselves from the control of state authorities, to be more closely connected with their employers, to associate themselves with new reference groups, such the middle-class, Greeks, or Christians, and to minimize contact with their previous [End Page 57] social networks. Welfare marginalization thus became part of the job for these women, and it facilitated their social inclusion into Greek society.

For live-in workers, the above is understood as a personality enhancement process that, on the one hand, reveals personal traits in behavior and, on the other, fosters social mobility. However, in the case of live-out domestic workers, the emphasis was placed on the management and control of service and on task mobility. In the first place, welfare needs are mainly associated with inherited wealth, strong affiliations with employing family, courtship and marriage, deposit accounts, traveling documents, and investment in diverted activities (educational, business, hobbies, and so on). Employers can maintain control through the gradual separation of workers from their previous social milieux and their gradual absorption into the personal worlds of the families for whom they work. In the second place, workers' sense of well-being becomes centered around the stability of their employment and the maintenance of a support network that includes lawyers, doctors, immigration authorities, and others whom they know through their employers. In such cases, employers are able to maintain their employees' deference to them by controlling information flows relating to things such as job vacancies, welfare benefits, and contacts with prospective house-services clientele and administrators, as well as by laying down the rules and conditions for transactions relating to wage limits, expectations and conditions at work, negotiating practices, and bargaining power.

Despite this robust understanding of the processes by which migrant women adapt to working in domestic service jobs, a key problem in research on domestic work is to understand why some women become live-in servants while others do not. A recent study of Romanian domestic workers (Lazarescu 2014) provides us with an analysis of the constraints and choices women face in employment matters. Daria Lazarescu investigated the social settings of workplaces in Romania and in Greece, examining the extent to which these settings emphasized either self-employment or wage employment, and how diversified mobility patterns and values developed in Greece. She understands domestic workers' willingness to take on various jobs and their high levels of mobility as elements that are directly linked to the transition of employment in Romania from collective communities to industrial, contractual, and household-based forms of labor organization. This transition seems to be central to the process by which women are habituated to personal modes of control. This process, Lazarescu argues, limits their search for employment to areas of economic activity that resemble those familiar to them from working in their own household and that match already established work expectations. Together [End Page 58] with other factors, such as immigration policy, social networks, and immediate survival needs, this process directs women into domestic service in Greece. These parameters are neither selected nor represent a definite settlement in a clear manner. Instead, as Lazarescu points out, working conditions, the extent of workers' personal ties with their employers, and the values of work organization that are created along the way, encourage or discourage women from seeking other forms of employment. By filtering out these elements of work, which they believe at best to be appropriate, employers reinforce either personal contact or job standardization. These two modes of work regulation push workers to seek personal opportunities either in family relationships or in impersonal work arrangements. Those who hold onto their jobs as live-in or live-out domestic workers in private households learn to attach more value to the social and job status that they get through their attachment to the employing family, enjoying their social autonomy from ethnic clustering. On the other hand, being a wage laborer for a cleaning agency is a more attractive option than domestic service for women looking for income stability and a career based more on a business than a personal relationship with the employer. The occupational career is more intertwined with the moral career of a person's attachment and social acceptance or acculturation process in the Greek society.

Concluding remarks

The immigrant domestic servant was born and flourished in a period of major changes in the organizational and social make-up of work and employment in Europe and in Greece. Between 1970 and 1990, recent arrivals came to constitute a substantial part of many countries' labor forces, and most of them found work in the service sector. Female immigrants in particular confronted a narrow job market, and most had to earn their living either in the leisure industry and the sex trade or in domestic service as live-in or live-out maids. On their career path, women have traveled through all sorts of physical, emotional, and income-related forms of exploitation. In the 1970s, their journey was shaped by a state-controlled system of labor that separated workers from their families, accorded them limited citizenship rights, and restricted their prospects of obtaining permanent resident status in the country. In the 1990s, however, the regulation and control of the domestic service sector became more the purview of the private employer rather than the state. This shift opened immigrant women up to even greater exploitation. The obstacles that they encountered trying to earn a living in Greece pushed them into jobs that led to [End Page 59] their becoming much more dependent on their employers. Subordination and deference were the price they had to pay to get a job. The revival of the padrone system during this period made matters worse. Labor agents controlled access to jobs, and so for immigrants, and especially for certain ethnic groups and for women, there was no free labor market and no prospect of workplace mobility. This was particularly the case with recent arrivals. One would expect that domestic workers, for example, would seek over time to maximize their ability to move on to other types of work, both as they accumulated material and social resources and as they became more integrated in their host society. In actual fact, the opposite seems to have occurred: the more workers became accustomed to their subordination and loss of control over their personal lives, the less likely they were to leave domestic service for other types of employment. Instead, in-job mobility became the focus of domestic workers' decision-making. Developing a career in domestic work took more effort and attention and turned into a way of life that provided some compensation for the ills and suffering they experienced on the job. After 25 years in domestic services, immigrant domestic servants not only became accustomed to their jobs and the conditions related to them, but they also developed new values and personal ambitions that made changing careers undesirable, if not almost impossible. Over time, then, immigrant female domestics came to see not only their material well-being but also their sense of self, their identity, and their social status as inextricably intertwined with their work as servants, even if this came at the cost of their personal freedom, their alienation from their ethnic community, and ultimately from their families.

Iordanis Psimmenos
Panteion University
Iordanis Psimmenos

Iordanis Psimmenos is Professor of Sociology and Head of the Department of Social Policy, Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences, Athens. He studied Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne and gained a PhD from Durham University under the supervision of Professors R.K. Brown, H. Beynon, and P. Glavanis. He has written extensively on the labor process of public sector employees and of migrant workers. His current research and publications focus on the social impact of crisis on domestic and construction migrant workers in Greece, while he is completing a monograph on casual labor in Europe (1980–2017).


1. For a better understanding of how migration relates to domestic services of Greek workers, see the studies by Sant Cassia and Bada 2006, Bada and Argyrou 2013, and Hantzaroula 2012; for early-twentieth-century emigration, see Triandafylidis 1952 and Saloutos 1964.

2. For a detailed discussion of these studies, see Emke-Poulopoulou 2007 and Psimmenos 2013. [End Page 60]


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