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Based on survey data from extensive field work in Greece, we argue that migrant women workers in the domestic sector now face greater difficulties in accessing the social protection of the state than they did before the recession. Interviews conducted with these women demonstrate that they live in a new environment that leads them away from formal mechanisms of social protection, compelling them instead to adopt more individualized strategies in their work and life choices as a whole. This failure of the social state is due to a dual process of exclusion that arises from both the discriminatory practices that marginalize these women and a dramatic shift in how they themselves see the expensive and inefficient social protection offered to them. We conclude that this new environment has in fact intensified their social and welfare marginalization, dissociating them from communal and family-based support networks.


From its outset, the current recession in Greece has left no aspect of life in the country untouched. The crisis's consequences on the daily lives of workers but also on the rights associated with their employment are symptomatic of these broader structural changes in Greek society. Although these effects have been widespread, they can be seen perhaps most keenly in the realm of domestic work, especially in the context of women migrant workers. Examining how these women participate in and help shape the social values of the Greek state in crisis can provide insights that allow us to reflect on the broader consequences of the crisis and the recession in particular. [End Page 111]

This article looks at the lives of these domestic workers, shedding light on the way in which the migrant women themselves participate in shaping the values of state-organized and official social protection. Through empirical data gathered from a representative set of interviews, we analyze how these women perceive the social security system and the National Health System (ΕΣΥ), as well as how their perception of them in turn impacts their day-to-day strategy and their long-term goals in the professional field.

The observation that these institutions of social protection did not help bring about the social integration of female domestic workers is a starting point for this discussion (see Psimmenos, in this issue). These women, who work as house servants or caregivers for elderly, found themselves on the margins of welfare state, in a network in which they had, on the one hand, established the formal right of access to the mechanisms of social protection and, on the other, were subjected to welfare marginalization, a topic we will discuss in-depth below. Given their failure to mitigate economic inequalities, the services and provisions offered to these women revealed long-term, inherent, and central weaknesses in the welfare state. Indeed, as a weak and traditionally inefficient welfare state, Greece neither inspired a change in social stratification nor effected a redistribution of status to the social whole (Petmezidou 2003; Sakellaropoulos and Oikonomou 2006; Skamnakis and Pantazopoulos 2014).

In the climate of recession, these women's formal rights and the legality of their presence in Greece have been threatened by unemployment. They find themselves today in a whole new zone of exclusion from even a decade ago. This new environment encompasses both objective factors, such as unemployment, economic uncertainty, and impaired access to social security institutions, and subjective factors, like the values, attitudes, and habits they acquired in the workplace, which hinder further their access to social services. In fact, as we will suggest, one result of these developments may be to return these women to the condition they were in when they arrived in Greece, but now with additional problems.

The dual process of exclusion

We maintain that the stances of domestic migrant workers toward the social state have been altered in a negative way under the pressure of the recession. The transformation of these women's perspectives regarding the social protection offered to them has lead them to redefine their strategies in relation to their work, both in their daily lives and in their long-term goals. More specifically, in today's recession-hit Greece, female domestic workers experience a dual [End Page 112] process of exclusion. Its twofold character stems first from the central—and to an extent traditional—features of social protection in the country, whereby welfare recipients are placed into distinct categories, each of which is entitled to different rights and benefits. The subjects of our study, along with many other immigrant workers, are slotted into the most marginalized group, and so receive the fewest benefits, getting what might be called the crumbs of social protection. Second, the changes that occur as a result of the recession create differences in the objective conditions of immigrant women's environment, which lead to dramatic changes in their daily life and work. One part of the process, then, precludes women's access to key resources vital to their daily existence, while another impacts their work life in ways that lead to a disconnection from communal and familial support systems, and thus to a form of social exclusion.

Our working hypothesis focuses precisely on this last point. Although the mechanisms of social protection have not been effective in helping these women, it is as much the changes in their living and working conditions that have cultivated and developed the depreciation of their collective social protection as structured by the state and its official bodies, correspondingly promoting individual strategies for covering their basic needs. These changes in the daily lives of these women have thus contributed to the social and welfare marginalization of them and their families. In other words, social protection is not defined in only one direction, from the social state toward the individual; rather, it is interpreted also as an element of a broader personal strategy. Since the subjects of our study—especially in the context of the crisis—are further isolated from public provisions, social protection is a product that seems to originate from individual choices.

In this dual process of exclusion, there are both formal and informal barriers for domestic servants that impedes their access to welfare and that affects their perception of the mechanisms of social protection. Although the nature of these barriers varies over time and according to a culture's economy and society, there are two primary ones in the case of contemporary Greek society. The first of these barriers relates to how state-sponsored social protection mechanisms fail to recognize immigrants as being eligible for full benefits. Consequently, we have discovered that ultimately the failure of these mechanisms leads workers to lose faith in the official system, pushing them adopt informal practices outside the framework of official institutions (Psimmenos 2007), such as visiting uncertified doctors or taking on uninsured work in exchange for higher wages. Rather than making these migrant women feel that they are an integral part of Greek society more broadly, the system castigates them as social pariahs not deserving of inclusion in the protection system, and [End Page 113] this is especially the case with those employed in low-status jobs (Skamnakis 2007). This barrier brought about by the flaws in the system itself does not just exclude workers employed in low-status jobs from welfare; more than that, it also leads to other forms of disrupture—marginalization from community life, social dislocation, and personal isolation—because of both how they are labelled and the unofficial alternatives that they must seek as a result.

In addition to this first, formal barrier, a second informal one outside of the social protection system has developed because of the state's restrictive policies—a barrier that has become even more of an impediment because of the recession. This obstacle is placed in front of these women by the unemployment and economic hardships that they now face, as we will discuss further below. These difficulties are not limited to the worker-woman herself, but also to her family. As with the first barrier, moreover, this informal one promotes individual strategies in order to meet basic needs, leading workers to turn away from the official mechanisms of social protection and rendering them pariahs from their own communities.

In what follows, we analyze the empirical data for positing the existence of these two barriers with an eye to a corresponding study carried out between 2005 and 2007. We make use of data and conclusions from the previous study, while highlighting the differences in the relationship of domestic servants to the network of social protection. The analysis does not overlook the fact that changes are always occurring, regardless of the actions and reactions of the subjects. The passage of years and the changes in goals and expectations of the people we studied belong to this category and have been taken into account. Moreover, the great unemployment of members of the households (male spouses in particular) who used to work in construction (ELSTAT 2015) places even greater pressure on low-income families,1 to the point where some are now considering moving to another country or even returning to their country of origin. However, the focus of our analysis and study is the labor of the migrant women themselves, where we find a differentiation in terms of not only wages and rights but also values concerning the job itself and the social protection to which it entitles them.

Values of social protection in the Greek case

In order to analyze the values that these women hold, it is necessary to understand the relationship between social protection and social values more generally. The provisions of the social welfare state reflect the values of its citizens at both a collective and individual level. The different perceptions of [End Page 114] social protection among these women are thus distinguished not only by the results that they produce for these women but also by the different values they reflect (Schwartz 1992; Petmezidou 2003, 500; Schwartz 2003). Correspondingly, those staking a claim to social protection develop values relating to state intervention in their lives based on their experiences (Pfau-Efinger 2005, 6–7). Put another way, the social security provisions that a state makes available to its citizens reflects the society's values. And the way that these resources are distributed, or maldistributed, shapes how people view and estimate their relationship to the state.

Previous studies have shown that the value structure that supports social protection provisions and the results produced by their distribution may be reflected on two levels. The first level is systemic, and it relates to what the state intends to be the desired outcome from the distribution of the services that it provides. The second relates to how people evaluate the system based upon their interaction with it (Sen 1970; Mau and Veghte 2007). The functions of the social state not only reflect the values of people assign to public policies and state functions; they also are a factor in determining those values at the individual level (Williams 1989), which in their turn are reflected in individual strategies both at work and in daily life (Psimmenos 2009). Again, this is a part of two-way process of determining values, working both from the state to the individual and from the individual to the state.

When this structure is functioning properly, state social policy should protect society's least fortunate members by providing a safety net that helps to mitigate inequality. Consequently, systems of social protection can function as mechanisms for facilitating social integration (Kaufmann 2012, 157). These mechanisms are supposed to guarantee protection, not necessarily of income, but of access to other social goods and benefits that people should be entitled to because of their citizenship status (Marshall 1963). If work and social status are primarily responsible for shaping social relations and social stratification, then the efficiency of a social protection system is judged by the degree of efficiency with which it reshapes them (Greve 2012).

The current situation in Greece offers an example of what happens when this system begins to falter. The delay in the development of social protection, in combination with the broader weaknesses of the Greek state, has made the provisioning of social protection insufficient and inefficient in redistributing access to those most in need of them. Social protection developed in a haphazard manner, without a strengthening of institutions that would have been in a position to confront social and economic inequalities and guarantee the distribution of benefits, which, in turn, could have fostered a sense of social [End Page 115] inclusion. In the Greek case, the mechanisms of social protection that could have guaranteed a minimum and basic level of living standards to safeguard participation in the life of the community did not develop (Sakellaropoulos 2008). Instead, the equal distribution of benefits was not on the agenda, and so some received far more than others. Social protection mechanisms were thus part of broad clientelistic relationships, which broke the unity of the workers' interests (Petmesidou 2003, 492–501). Simultaneously, this environment also obstructed the development of social solidarity and cultivated fragmented social protection, leading to polarized social protection mechanisms with bounty islets between generalized social insecurity. In short, access to social protection became a zero-sum game that pitted individuals against one another.

The marginal position of immigrants regarding social protection in Greece and their gradual exclusion

Migrants are usually the group with the weakest claim on their host society's social protection system (Psimmenos 2005). Not only do they need to obtain a legal status that gives them the right to claim protection, but they must also acquire the knowledge to know to stake that claim. Securing access to the web of social protection is an essential element in immigrants' strategy behind their push for social integration. Yet the value system tied to social integration is double-edged: the migrants gain (normative) equal access to the mechanisms of social protection (Leibfried and Zürn 2005; Clarke and Fink 2008), but they are also protected by informal and invisible barriers that hinder that access. However, that does not mean that the migrants have no part in shaping their place in this system. The position of migrants in systems of social protection is not only determined by the regulatory framework but also by front line officers' informal practices that determine how the social policy impacts them (Lewis 2004) and their level of integration (Skamnakis 2009). Social protection regimes generally tend to provide different levels of social welfare, leaving some groups more vulnerable than others (Morissens and Sainsbury 2005). And, as other research has shown (Xipolitas and Lazarescu 2014), immigrant female domestic servants tend to be one of the most at-risk populations because of their gender, legal status, and the nature of their work.

Migrant workers as a whole face numerous obstacles in their encounters with state social protection agencies. The greatest of them, however, is their legal and social status as outsiders vis-à-vis the native population (Morissens and Sainsbury 2005, 654). Despite changes in the system that lessened the gap [End Page 116] between the level of service to locals and immigrants, discrimination remains (Taylor-Gooby 2004). And because of these social inequalities, the marginal position of migrants in their social protection agencies has not improved. It is this kind of social marginalization that shapes their attitudes toward the state and, especially, toward their work, which after all is the chief means by which they establish their right to social services.

As one of the most vulnerable sectors of society, migrant female domestic workers in particular have to adjust to the dominant value system of the host country, which can often discriminate against them, and this leads them to redefine the elements that shape their identity and place in society, not only as workers but also as individuals. They are compelled to readjust and adopt new values that are restricted to a narrow framework, with limited and weak expectations, as the empirical data in the subsequent section will show. Through this process and because of their personal experiences, these women develop a negative attitude toward social welfare institutions and the provisions that they provide. But in order to get by, they must accommodate the system and the social values that support it.

A new value system gradually forms, especially in the work space because a woman's claim to certain social protection is based on their job. What is more, work is also a factor that shapes her and her family's position within the community, as it determines income and social status. Thus, unemployment, which has skyrocketed during the crisis, not only creates social and economic problems that inhibit these workers' integration into society but also imposes great obstacles to their access to resources from the welfare state (Schierup 1985).

This realignment of values is especially true for the migrant women in Greece, many of whose families have experienced the long-term unemployment of a father-husband, who used to be the family's bread-winner (ELSTAT 2015). Women now have to assume that role, even though it leads to accepting work in difficult conditions that provide few benefits, to the loss of the workplace autonomy, and ultimately to their isolation, with consequences for both their participation in the community and access to social protection (Welshman 2006).

When migrant women have to resort to taking jobs that increase their vulnerability, it also affects their perception of the social protection offered by the state. Their lack of faith in these social institutions contributes to the process of social exclusion and presents an obstacle to their active participation in the institutions of social protection, leading to their incomplete integration in society (Papadopoulou 2013). Migrant women, and especially those working in domestic service, become isolated from organizations and social networks [End Page 117] that could advocate in favor of their rights and help to improve their living and working conditions (Psimmenos 2013, 23).

As an aspect of organized solidarity between the members of the community, social policy provides regulated protection from the risks that the workers run, while also serving as a mechanism that allows them to balance the inequalities between members of the community in the medium term (Spiker 2000, 101). Migrant community members, however, often find themselves in an intermediate or gray zone, whereby their rights have not been fully recognized and their access to the full range of social protection remains an issue (Sainsbury 2012). Members of migrant groups approach the formal arrangements of social protection as a space that is accessed through employment, while recognizing their own, often marginal participation in that space (Psimmenos 2009). Migrants themselves thus have the opportunity to adopt or reject attitudes and strategies (with relation to the job in particular) that would allow them to see themselves or members of their family as part of the social structure. As the next section will demonstrate, however, they do not always take this opportunity to consider themselves as part of their new communities, thus preventing the social integration that taking such a perspective would create.

Individual values: The access to formal social protection as an individual strategy

Because of the crisis, the Greek government passed legislature that led to deregulation of the welfare state, to massive cuts in benefits, and to a tightening of the criteria for eligibility to receive social welfare. This last development hit groups that traditionally occupied the margins of the social policy regime and thus further estranged them from the core of what is a rudimentary form of social protection (Sainsbury 2012, 113–117). Moreover, the inferior position of these groups with respect to access to social services and community life is reproduced and handed on to the next generation, limiting the terms of its own integration (Schierup 1985; Castles 2000).

Despite such obstacles and others discussed below, such as cost and discrimination, our empirical data suggests that migrant women still do view integration into the mechanisms of social protection as part of their individual strategies, tying it to their broader aims of securing the conditions of social protection and work—an important goal of their initial decision to migrate. The strategy of social integration that entails securing an income by working as a domestic servant and from the state in the form of social protection allows migrant women to provide for their families and to establish a certain social [End Page 118] status in community (Psimmenos and Skamnakis 2008, 398–401). At the same time, however, our data also reveals that these women's distrust in the system's ability to meet their needs and those of their families renders these hopes seeming impossibilities.

Empirical research

The empirical research for this study was carried out in 2013 and consisted of 44 in-depth interviews based on a unified question guide. Participants included not only migrant women workers from the entire spectrum of domestic work but also the largest migrant groups in Greece in terms of women workers: Albanians, Romanians, Bulgarians, Ukrainians, and Georgians (ELSTAT 2014).

Our study was to determine both the way in which migrant women domestic workers perceive the social state as a field of values and how those values then shape their strategies in their work and daily lives. The answers are analyzed in order to specifically identify the influence of the recession on these groups' social values, as well as the resulting changes in how they perceive the provisions of the social state. Empirical data and conclusions from earlier, corresponding studies aid in reflecting on the changes that mostly take place in the field of perception and values as a result of the recession.

By comparing our empirical data to the corresponding data gathered a decade ago, we can see that migrant domestic workers are confronted by a dramatically different environment today. In most cases, the main source of income is now from the migrant worker herself. The male migrants are employed in building and construction, a sector in decline for the last five years (ELSTAT 2015). This fact limits opportunities for managing the family income and for covering social insurance contributions. In many cases, such contributions are paid only in order to secure the right to stay in the country:

If you ask why I get work stamps in domestic service whereas I didn't used to, why I contribute toward security? I'll tell you that no, I pay the money because I want to change, to renew my papers. … Not because … I don't think of what I get from the IKA.

(Viera, 47 years old, Russia)

The contributions to the social insurance contributions are felt as a burden and are avoided as much as possible in order to meet the needs of the household. The abolition of self-insurance creates another problem, however, since a migrant woman no longer has the possibility of covering the cost of her own insurance. The provision that bestows the full responsibility of providing insurance contributions upon the employer—though correct in principle—entails a number [End Page 119] of practical shortcomings, as well. The employer must not only contribute the money for the domestic worker they hire; they must also have the time required to take care of the procedure for the payment of insurance contributions. In this way, many migrant women are now without help from Social Insurance Institute (IKA) and consequently look to the black market network:

From 1998 to 2011, I was on the IKA program. Now I stopped because I can no longer pay, and they have also abolished self-insurance; for three working days, it is a hundred and something Euros—that I am unable to pay.

(Tamara, 37 years old, Georgia)

For many women, in fact, reserving their legality in Greece is a more important motive for the payment of contributions than obtaining the social protection that the official sector provides:

Yes, I have a healthcare registration booklet, but I need it more for the residence permit than for the doctors. Besides, you have to pay both for doctors and medicine.

(Irina, 45 years old, Moldavia)

This passage reflects the current deterioration of social protection in Greece. Its cost is deemed particularly high, it would seem, especially when we factor in the relatively great sum that the workers themselves must contribute wherever they make use of the system.

The migrant women also refer to the discrimination that they continue to face despite their presence in the country for often over twenty years. Although they themselves have secured their presence as equal users of the system through the services of social protection, they remain vulnerable to informal discriminatory practices, which undermine their rights. In the words of Villy (55 years old) from Bulgaria, "they see us foreigners differently."

In addition to the obstacles demonstrated in the above interviews, our empirical data from previous research since 2004 suggests that these domestic workers face two other impediments in accessing social protection: [1] the need to secure legality through the completion of the minimum number of work days required to access this right; and [2] the problems brought about by informal evaluations made by front-line officers in social services (Psimmenos and Skamnakis 2006). All of these obstacles taken together confirm our initial hypothesis, namely, that the environment in which the migrant women domestic workers are active creates barriers to access and makes their presence in the system precarious. Without being entirely excluded from the spectrum of social protection, they still constantly run the risk of rej ection and, consequently, the risk of failing to meet their basic needs. [End Page 120]

Work is the broader context in which social protection lies and a starting point for securing rights of access to services and provisions. The structure that we are analyzing—and which reflects the relationship between work and social protection—is currently being redefined. The recession, together with the larger consequences that it holds for social relations, work, and the size of the social state, impacts the microlevel, affecting the presence of migrant groups, in particular those who work in vulnerable low-status jobs marked by high insecurity and uncertainty (See Psimmenos, in this issue).

In the field of employment, we find a more generalized insecurity as a result of crisis, which calls into question the decision to migrate in the first place. The extensive rate of unemployment in the country (over 27% in 2013) has an immediate impact on the particular labor force and endangers a migrant worker's job status, social protection, and status in the country. It is clear that unemployment cancels, in essence, the reasons for which many migrant women in Greece are present in the country and once more activates the motives of a new migration. When Souela (27 years old) from Albania, says "I only want work, now," she highlights the main anxieties underlying the strategy of migrant women as observed through our interviews. A woman's job is commonly now the main source of family income, as the construction sector is now in complete stagnation (ELSTAT 2014), leaving large sections of the male migrant population unemployed. Domestic workers' broader life contexts are thus very different when compared to those in the years before the recession. The expectations of progress and improvement in the terms of living, as they are recorded in the first years, are brutally replaced. Naturally, it is not only the economic circumstances that give rise to pessimism. The passing of years and the realization that progress is difficult, along with the loss of what may have been an enthusiasm with one's new environment, have now thrust aside any original impressions. Today, such expectations for the future do not seem positive. Although the women recognize that the difficulties they face are not insurmountable and that the environment is not as harsh as it was when they first arrived, they acknowledge the difficulties in the environment in Greece as a whole. The following interview excerpt encapsulates this negative sentiment of the migrant women in domestic service:

Here it's better, in any case. … But now I'm very frightened, because I'm much older, and this plays a role, and I know what that is. … It's not that they don't have money that I'm afraid of, but that all the goodness leaves the people.

(Viera, 47 years old, Russia) [End Page 121]

Most migrant women work not to assist, but rather to fully support their families, since the husbands are unemployed for a prolonged period of time. The question of survival is now critical, and the instability and insecurity in their own jobs remain problems that create negative consequences, pushing migrant women domestic workers into sectors of the shadow economy and informal procedures. While they wish to benefit from social security, the denial or indifference of their employers, as well as their own wish for more cash in hand, leads them onto paths further from official social protection. Subjective factors—such as the disdainful attitude toward the pension system in the host country or an acknowledgment that the years have passed by—are the basic reasons that migrant women stray from social insurance and pension prospects. The pressing need to renew their residence permits forces them to purchase their own work stamps, just as the need for healthcare leads them to cover their needs at their own personal expense. The harsh economic conditions in the family and the reduction in day wages and the search for work (no longer easy) now weaken these migrant women, leading them away from formal social protection and thus depriving them of access to the rights of the social state.

The long-term recession, and unemployment in particular, fosters a climate of uncertainty and pessimism, undermining the very legal basis of migrant women in Greece. The risk of losing legal status naturally causes more anxiety than their access to social services. The danger of falling into a regime of illegality initially defines their stance vis-à-vis the mechanisms of social protection. As a consequence, work remains a central parameter and a mechanism of entry into the system of social protection.

The benefits of social protection

The provisions of social protection mechanisms are still a possibility for migrant domestic workers. However, the rights to social security are not a given for them. They are instead a framework of security and confirmation of their work. Access of migrant women to social services, the right to use the goods on offer, and the possibility to benefit from the provision of social protection are determined by the combination of the following factors: [1] the priorities defined by the migrant woman; [2] the practices that she develops in order to manage her needs for social protection services; and, finally, [3] the features of access to them—from the means of managing the goods to the demarcations and informal practices deployed by the frontline officers defining the way in which these services function.

Migrant women acknowledge healthcare services as the key provision of social services. However, gathering the required amount of work hours to [End Page 122] secure a pension is seen as impossible and thus abandoned as a prospect. The typical reality of the social insurance system that these women face is reflected in the passage below:

A pension is a dream for me. And let us hope I get one, but I really don't believe it, and all these work stamps I pay for, I pay barely enough in order to have a healthcare booklet and nothing more, that is, I don't aim to pay them in order to earn a pension. I know that I'm simply not going to earn one. … Greeks themselves, after working all these years, 40 years, they don't get a pension. So how will I earn one, after having contributed for only a few years?

(Amalia, 58 years old, Albania)

The question of healthcare prevails in these interviews and is tied to the ability to work, but especially to face the fear of illness that would prevent them from keeping their already unstable jobs. As our data shows, social protection relates to the current needs of migrant women. According to their own perception, the point of social protection is health protection. To a lesser extent, it also still does relate to issues of long-term strategy, which is tied to permanently staying in the country:

You know what I want for my old age? Security, to have economic security, when I won't be able to work, at least to have something to buy medicine. When we grow old we need lots of medicine, right? Doctors, as well. I need to have set something aside, so that I won't need to wait for my children to think of giving me money. That's what I mean.

(Liana, 57 years old, Georgia)

Social protection thus can be seen to provide a minimum level of security in migrants' lives. Although serious reservations are expressed with regard to the ability of the system to secure—today or in the future—an environment of social security, the expectation from social security is its ability to offer what is necessary to confront immediate needs, healthcare in particular, as well as potentially those in the future.

The devaluation of social protection

As we have seen, however, the system of social protection for the most part does not offer a sense of social security for the migrant domestic workers of our study. The very provisions and services available to them are simply not sufficient to create the conditions for social security. For this reason, migrant women develop parallel practices of an informal and temporary nature in order to meet their own needs and those of their families. The dominant characteristic of these practices is their commercial character in the context of informal, often illegal operations. The needs not covered by the formal sector are indeed met for many domestic workers—but only through informal structures and practices with dubious results. [End Page 123]

I have no work stamps. Whenever I need to visit the hospital I go to the Georgian doctors. … In Omonia … we pay much less than what Greeks ask from us. … Our friends give us a telephone number and say, go there, in Omonia.

(Christina, 44 years old, Georgia)

These parallel, informal practices show the structural weakness of the social protection system in Greece, while also revealing the extent of alienation of the migrant women from the structures and services of the formal sector. Moreover, these informal practices are tied to the commercialization of the services and, by extension, to the very concept of social security. Labor does not provide equal to access in social security; on the contrary, in order to maintain good health or to face current health problems, even employed migrant women must engage in informal practices outside of the social security system:

For various health issues, I'll tell you what I've done: I try to work out when I'll have the chance to visit Albania to take care of it. Otherwise, here, I don't dare book an appointment, only to be told I'll be seen in six months.

(Leta, 40 years old, Albania)

As this passage suggests, the operating difficulties of the formal mechanisms push women workers toward leaving the country in order to meet their needs—a clear confirmation of the disintegration of social protection in Greece. Our data also demonstrates that many of the same issues that we have seen in the healthcare sector can also be found in childcare:

At the day care station, they don't take children now, because we have no work stamps. The situation has changed a lot of things; at a great pace, it has taken a very sharp turn. I wish it would change toward the better. … I paid for a private one, until they could no longer keep it there, and they took it out and kept it at home. Yet my daughter-in-law has no work; she lost her work, since she was busy looking after the children.

(Amalia, 58 years old, Albania)

Under the burden of budgetary policies and the limitations of funding toward the mechanisms of social protection, women and their children constantly fall further into a state of vulnerability. The pressures on these services and provisions brought about by the recession undermine the value of organized social protection, which becomes marginal in terms of its operation. Of course, despite the fact that the services offered do not respond to the expectations of migrant women, they do offer a minimum degree of protection, as fifty-two-years-old Mina from the Ukraine explains: [End Page 124]

If it's only a fee you have to pay to enter the hospital, then I'll be happy. Yet I'm afraid we're going to pay for everything. We have good ho spitals here; I hope they don't get worse.

(Mina, 52 years old, Ukraine)

The general picture painted above corresponds to the microlevel, where the recession, together with the unemployment that it entails, has limited the rights of access to services and created additional barriers to employment. The result is a deterioration of living and employment standards, as well as a further isolation from the social protection network.


Migrant women domestic workers approach the disintegration of social services and the provision of formal social protection goods with great distrust. The economic and social circumstances created by the economic recession, along with the changes in the social state as a whole, have pushed migrant women further from their long-term goals and from using what they believe to be a meager range of provisions. They are forced to develop a culture that is reflected in attitudes, habits, and a more general way of life whose epicenter is their own personal abilities, financial and psychological alike. They try to survive, abstaining from social security, social protection, and state services, not only because of their cost but also because of the lack of protection that they offer.

As they gradually find themselves in a position where they provide the only source of income to their households, they spend only to cover immediate needs, at the expense of strategies that would ensure conditions of social security. Their choices aim at contributing to their daily needs. The migrant women in our study describe the total failure with relation to their broader choices; today, they would not agree to begin anew for a pension or social security. They describe the choices that lead them to self-insure, that is, to purchase private insurance, paths that lead them further from social protection in the host country. Temporary paths lead them back to the country of origin for seemingly quick and easy fixes, as in the case of healthcare (surgeries, diagnoses, examinations, medical supervision), but also for the prospect of some small retirement pension later in life. Solidarity networks among friends and fellow countrymen help them find cheaper doctors of their own nationality, since healthcare in Greece has quickly become unapproachable and out of reach for them from an economic perspective. [End Page 125]

These women experience a dual process of exclusion. This process consists of both the deficient social state, where they already found themselves on the margins of social protection, and the modern reality—elements of which are dramatically exacerbated as a result of the crisis—that moves them further from the spectrum of protection provided by the formal systems. The economic recession marginalizes them further, excluding their group both from social services and from access to the provisions that these services offer. The absence of social security for immediate as well as long-term risks frightens them, even though they acknowledge that the great difficulties which they endured in their own countries of origin (and which initially pushed them to emigrate) do not exist in Greece. Thus, although they are excluded from social protection and are socially marginalized in a country in which they have lived for years, they prefer to stay on the margins, having become accustomed to this situation, in expectation of better times, both for the country and for their own lives.

Christoforos Skamnakis
Democritus University of Thrace, Department of Social Administration and Political Science
Efrossini Malekaki
Panteion Univeristy, Department of Social Policy
Christoforos Skamnakis

Christoforos Skamnakis is Assistant Professor at Democritus University of Thrace in Department of Social Administration and Political Science. His main scholarly focus is on the welfare state, especially in current developments in social policy and more specifically at local level. He has published two books and articles on social policy at local level, welfare marginalization of vulnerable groups, especially migrant women. His research currently deals with consequences of austerity policies on social protection at local level.

Efrossini Malekaki

Effrosyni Malekaki is a sociologist and a social worker. She holds an MA in Social Psychiatry/Child Psychiatry from the University of Ioannina. Currently she is a PhD candidate in the Department of Social Policy, Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences, Athens.



The analysis is based on the findings of a research project entitled "Unveiling Domestic Work in Times of Crisis," carried out by the Centre of Social Morphology and Social Policy of the Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences (KEKMOKOP), directed by Professor I. Psimmenos.

1. Since 2009, unemployment among foreign workers in the country has begun to supplant that of native workers. From 2010 onward, it exceeds double digits, and in the first quarter of 2016, it has reached 34.1%, compared to 24.2% in the case of Greek workers (Instituto Ergasias—Genikis Sinomospondias Ergaton Ellados 2015, 10; ELSTAT 2009–2016). Data from the Social Security Institute, reveal that during 2009–2013 the number of insured foreigners employed in the construction sector decreased by 69.42% (IKA 2016).


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