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  • Introduction:Regulating Decent Work for Domestic Workers
  • Adelle Blackett, Guest Editor (bio)

Care work1 in the household plays a market-enabling function. The market nexus may have become obscured because of the ease with which care giving (or care [End Page 1] taking, as Martha Fineman prefers) is constructed as unpaid, within the nuclear family.2 Care was returned to the public sphere, progressively and selectively, through a welfare-statist rationale. In the states in which a welfare state developed,3 entitlements tended to be constructed around the male breadwinner model but were linked to, and broadened to include, social citizenship entitlements.4 [End Page 2]

As Catharina Calleman notes in her contribution to this special issue, although some profoundly social democratic states such as Sweden assumed that the demand for domestic work would decrease as workplace equity and broader equality between men and women would increase, there has instead been a resurgent demand for paid domestic work.5 Paid domestic work in the household has become increasingly important for all of the demographic reasons linked to dual income families in an economic structure whose viability may seem irretrievably linked to consumption. The insatiable "need" in the current stage of globalization for workers who are perpetually market available and relentlessly productive is coupled with significant demographic changes leading in many parts of the world to increased longevity. It is important to recognize that the rising demand for domestic work also reflects recognition of the increased value attached by communities such as the disabled, as well as the elderly, to the dignity of being able to have care support and stay at home and retain greater autonomy than in public health care facilities.6

The observed contemporary rise in the demand for privatized care work cannot be separated from the state retreat from the provision of certain services and an observed increase in the tendency towards the privatization of care through a cost reduction logic and a weakened commitment or capacity to pay for social protection via employer taxation and contributions in an environment where employers are perceived also to be footloose investors who may relocate.7 And the persistence of the need for contracted care in many developing countries reflects, in part, the fact that most have never had the privilege to develop robust social security systems.8

So, instead, it is typically racialized, "othered" women—often highly educated as qualified nurses or teachers—who relocate through a process of "care resource [End Page 3] extraction."9 They provide undervalued, subsidized, care in private households from rural to urban areas in the same country, from lower income to higher income countries in the same region, or in other economically emerging regions of the global South, or increasingly from South to North.10 They leave their own families behind, sending remittances in their place.11 Increasingly, it is this broader, multi-pronged dynamic that is referred to as "global care chains."12 These women face the multiple structural disadvantages associated with travelling from the South to the North, under restrictive immigration controls and segmented into precarious forms of employment on which they are dependent not only for their own livelihood [End Page 4] but also for those of families "back home." Their disadvantage is structured and constructed through the current failure to liberalize the movement of persons.13 It is this disadvantage on which "workers with family responsibilities"14 depend for personalized, and increasingly privatized, care.

Feminist engagement with these intersections of class, race, nationality, and gender through research and activism over the rights of domestic workers has been significant.15 Scholars and activists have insisted upon the role of the state, both in constructing domestic workers' oppression and in perpetuating it through the absence of state law.16 They have also challenged state paternalism in the [End Page 5] construction of "vulnerability" that needs to be regulated.17 Yet the literature on labour regulatory strategies to assist in the transformation of the domestic work relationship is only recently starting to emerge, in large measure because of a long-awaited initiative to develop an international labour standard on "decent work for domestic workers."

This introductory article has two dimensions that...


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