Maid to Order
Updated: 2011-02-11 11:08
By Zhou Yan and Qian Yanfeng (China Daily European Weekly)
A Filipino helper demonstrates her babycare skills during a lecture for her Chinese counterparts in Chengdu, capital of Southwest China's Sichuan province. Zou Fei / for China Daily
More affluent mainland families are hiring filipino maids even at the risk of violating the law
"I'm here making triple what I did as a mathematics teacher at a Philippines elementary school," Blance says. Her employers, a young entrepreneur couple in their early 30s, pay her about 3,500 yuan (390 euros) a month, twice the average salary of a Chinese maid.
"It's impossible to find a job in our profession that pays as high as a housekeeper receives here in China. That's why I came here," she says.
Her earnings in China can fully support her husband and four children back in the Philippines, she says.
Blance's employers live in a three-story apartment in the downtown area of the city. They have three housemaids, of whom Blance is the only foreigner.
"My job is to take care of their 5-year-old boy and do a little routine housework," she says.
Like most of her Filipino peers, Blance possesses a bachelor's degree in education. Her major advantage in competing with Chinese maids is her English.
"My main job in my madam's family is to teach her son English, which I started learning when I was five," she says.
With higher levels of education and professionalism, Filipino maids are being hired by an increasing number of Chinese families on the mainland who can afford to pay more, even at the risk of violating the law.
For now, foreign maids are not allowed to work on the Chinese mainland. All Filipino maids in China hold tourist visas, most of which need to be renewed every six months. They do not allow the holder to work, a cause of inconvenience to employers responsible for renewing the visas.
There are also many housekeeping agents cashing on the growing demand from wealthy Chinese families for Filipino maids, by acquiring visas for them through false documents.
According to Blance, 45 percent of the women from Nueva Vizcaya province, where she comes from, leave their families to come to work as maids in industrialized countries and regions such as Singapore and Hong Kong.
As the number of rich people has increased on the mainland, so has the number of Filipino housemaids.
"Wages in the mainland are even higher than in Hong Kong, but living expenses, particularly food, are much cheaper. Therefore, we can save more working here," Blance says.
Due to restrictions on foreign housemaids working on the mainland, there are no official figures revealing how many there are.
But James Mo, who runs an agency to introduce Filipino maids to the mainland, says the number in Shanghai alone is more than a thousand.
Shanghai Golden Luzon Business Consultancy Co, the name of Mo's small enterprise, has introduced more than 60 maids from the Philippines since it started running in 2008.
Much to Mo's surprise, more than 80 percent of his clients are mainland people rather than foreigners in high positions at multinational companies in Shanghai.
"The higher cost of hiring a Filipino maid does not deter affluent Chinese employers," says Mo, who studied in the Philippines. Instead, more families are willing to have Filipino maids because of their better educational background, their fluent English, their well-trained housekeeping ability and their politeness, he says.
Since establishing his company, demand has far surpassed supply, says Mo.
"We receive about 30 telephone calls a month asking to employ Filipino housemaids now, up 30 percent from 2008," Mo says, adding that most enquirers are in their 40s with children.
Despite the absence of supportive policies from the government allowing foreign domestic helpers to work on the mainland, the demand in Shanghai alone is exploding.
Industry experts estimate that generally employers of foreign maids in Shanghai are families with an income exceeding 1 million yuan annually.
Figures in the 2010 Hurun Wealth Report, which specializes in tracking China's rich, showed that the number of millionaires on the mainland was up 6.1 percent from the previous year at 875,000. Shanghai accounts for 14 percent of them.
"The market potential is huge here in the city, but little demand can be met because of policy restrictions," Mo says.
"Most of my friends in my hometown are willing to come to China, but only a small fraction of them eventually make it because of visa issues," Blance says, hoping that the job market will open up more to her and her peers one day.
"Filipino housemaids are much more professional than the domestic helpers here, especially in their childcare and level of English.
"I think if we allowed in more Filipino maids for competition, maybe it would help improve the general service standards of our domestic helpers," says Li Ruiyan, a housewife in Shanghai who has tried employing four different helpers in the past year as she was dissatisfied with their service.
Zhang Qiao, secretary general of Jiangsu province Home Service Association, says while it is important for Chinese domestic helpers to learn more from their Philippines counterparts to enhance their service standards, the government should remain cautious in loosening policy over the inflow of foreign maids.
"Uncontrolled inflow of foreign workers would hamper domestic employment," she says.
"The government needs to protect local workers by ensuring enough jobs for them."
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