The Lives of Nannies, or Working Without Rights

My mother used to help me raise my kid. Mother is a light manufacturing engineer. She hasn’t worked in her own profession since she took maternity leave. After four years on maternity leave, the Soviet Union collapsed and she lost her job and profession at the same time. After that, she made a living sometimes working as a math tutor or sometimes baking cakes. 

Mother, who had just moved to Tbilisi, was offered a nanny job by her next door neighbors.

She agreed and raised the little girl with so much love. A little later, in order to help me with my kid, she had to quit her job. To this day, Mother blames herself for abandoning the girl prematurely.

ქალის პორტრეტი, გრაფიკულად დახატული

Domestic Work

The nanny profession can be described in many ways:  informal work, care work, and domestic work. Globally, women perform these jobs. Child care, like many jobs that women do, never acquired professional recognition and remains disrespected and degraded to this day.  

The nanny, for example, still existed in the European family in times when a woman didn’t have the right to work, and so in exchange for child care, women were offered food and board. In the 17th century, women only agreed[1] to this type of work in exchange for independent housing. Child care also conjures up the legacy of slavery – a popular film also tells us much about it. After centuries of struggle to abolish slavery, women gained the right to paid labor. Later on, capitalism adapted care work to the typical commodity exchange model and made it a luxury available solely for wealthy families. This helps explain the phenomenon of why women from Georgia and other developing countries migrate to the West.[2]  

The demand for domestic work has also increased in Georgia according to a study by UN Women (in the process of publication) using data from GeoStat. From 2017 to 2019, the number of domestic workers increased from 14,000 to 18,000, which is 1.1% of the total workforce. Women who are Georgian citizens make up 96% of domestic workers.[3]

The demand for domestic work has also increased in Georgia according to a study by UN Women (in the process of publication) using data from GeoStat.

Nannie

Its safe to say that the needs of the population play a lesser role in the increase in demand for nannies in Georgia than the low cost of this labor which does not exceed an average of 4.58 GEL per hour and which is 1.69 GEL lower than the average hourly wage of a driver. This indicator is highlighted by a recent study by UN Women and concludes that one of the reasons for such a pay gap may be due to gender because in most cases, drivers are men and nannies are  women.

Nannies are most often middle-aged women (50-70 years). In some cases, this job is the only way for them to satisfy their basic needs such as paying rent in a city they relocated to, paying off a bank loan, paying for a family member's healthcare, or just having some pocket money.

The nanny is a domestic worker. Georgian legislation does not recognize the category of a domestic worker. Consequently, even the minimum rights provided by the Labor Code of Georgia do not apply to nannies. The law does not protect their right to have fixed working hours, protection during a crisis, a safe working environment, paid vacation, paid maternity leave, or access to health care. According to a study by UN Women, based on Geostat data, 96% of nannies have verbal work agreements, and their working hours typically exceed the 40 hours per week as stated by the Labor Code. Despite such working conditions, domestic workers do not go to court to resolve disputes. To date, no such case has been reported in any of the large city government bodies where domestic workers have the right to sue for better working conditions.[4]

I, especially, would like to thank United Nations Women for sharing with me the preliminary findings of the study “Analysis of the Regulatory Impact of Ratification of the International Labor Organization Convention 189 (On Domestic Labor).” The study will be made public by the end of 2020.

Nannies Had an Especially Difficult Time During the Pandemic

Nannies were left out of pandemic-related anti-crisis measures. The state did not take into account that they could not provide employment documents necessary to receive assistance. Domestic workers became entirely dependent on the goodwill of their employers, resulting in only a small group of workers benefiting with a one-time subsidy of GEL 300.

"A section of nannies could not return to work after the pandemic restrictions were lifted. The employers replied that they were no longer needed since they longer had an income, and they got used to being with the child themselves. "

Similar replies were frequent from employers with whom Sopo Shubitidze spoke within the framework of a social initiative. Together, with the initiative group, Sopo implemented a crucial project for women who are informally employed. The initiative group found a source of funding and handed out food vouchers to 300 nannies, left unemployed during the pandemic, and their families. 1179 people, including family members, were helped in total. For many families, the voucher was their only source of aid to get through the crisis period.

"When we started handing out the vouchers, we tried to help large families at the first stage. There were families where 6-8 people live and only one works. We can’t say everyone’s needs were equal, though help was decisive for some. Only one nanny told us to help someone else instead of her.” Sopo

The pandemic seems to have exposed how vulnerable are the daily lives of women involved in care work. A job, which at the very least is supposed to guarantee survival for these women, betrays them at the first sign of crisis and cannot promise survival.

Video


Nannies Work a Lot and for Long Hours

I decided to interview the nannies in a focus group. We met informally in advance and agreed on the approximate date of the meeting. Then we talked on the phone. Finally, when we had to agree on the hour, it turned out that none of them could tell me what time they would be free to meet. "It depends on what time the baby's mother gets back", "I have to arrange it with the employer", "I can't tell you anything in advance" were their answers. We could not arrange a meeting with many of them. They simply did not know when they would be free. I realized the problem was with their work schedule.

The UN Women study shows that the number of domestic workers who work more than 40 hours a week is three times higher than other workers.

The UN Women study shows that the number of domestic workers who work more than 40 hours a week is three times higher than other workers.

 

Source: UN Women, ISET (in the process of publication), "Analysis of the Regulatory Impact of Ratification of 189 ILO Convention"

Nannies usually do not have a set work schedule. Their working hours are erratic and full of surprises, depending on such ambiguities as the employer's lifestyle, the nature of the child and parent, the number of family members, the gender of the family members, and the employer's daily schedule. Even if job duties outlined in the initial arrangement do not oblige the nannies to spend extra hours with the child, and if the family does not instruct them little by little to do housework, the nannies, on their own initiative, take on additional duties like making dinner, cleaning, and laundry.

"My only duty is to take care of the child, but when I looked at them, they didn't have time to eat, let alone cook, so I offered to prepare dinner. I am already raising a second child in this family. I was recently offered a similar job with double the salary, but I turned it down because I'm the family's only hope. " Manana, 60 years old.

"I lived in Batumi. When I was desperate, I went to work despite the very low salary, they paid me 150 GEL. Cleaning and dishwashing were not part of the arrangement but the mistress was making me do them. There is a moment when you are not told directly, but it is implied because you are a nanny, you have to do this and you have to do that, even though you know perfectly well what is included in your duty. Additionally, when the neighbors came in, they looked down on you because you are a nanny. I would change this attitude, we should be treated with respect. The labor of housewives as well as the labor of a nanny is priceless.  When I'm hard up, I work, but I do twice as much work for the salary I get paid.” Tamuna, 55 years old.

Vacancy announcement

 

"When I go in the morning, I wash my hands first, I have my own towel. I change my clothes and put on a work uniform. I start by tidying up the baby, bathing, changing diapers, and feeding. I take the little child outside to get some fresh air three times a day, and I put him to sleep three times a day. But when the child is asleep, if the house needs cleaning, I clean, what needs ironing, I iron. I sometimes beg them to give me something to do like to make dinner for them. I have a different program for the big kids, a 3 or 4-year-old child needs fun and education.” Mariam, 70 years old.

Child care requires them to show love in addition to fulfilling specific responsibilities. Kindheartedness is required in dealing with the child and family members. The share of emotional labor in the work is so great that it is difficult for them to have grievances towards the employer since they consider themselves a member of the family. If things are not so, the nanny does not feel comfortable in the family and leaves the job as soon as possible.

Nannies Perform Emotional Labor

Emotional labor can be defined as managing feelings and expressions to fulfill the existing expectations and requirements of an employer.[5] This kind of work is done by more or less all employees, although it has become a considerable though implicit condition for a number of professions. Emotional labor, as an integral part of labor, was first mentioned by the American scientist, writer and woman Arlie Russell Hochschild in the 1980s. Hochschild describes the essence of emotional labor through an observation of flight attendants, seeing that flight attendants must separate feelings from work in order to perform his or her duties. She says this work requires one "to induce or suppress feeling in order to sustain the outward countenance that produces the proper state of mind in others." In order to achieve this result, we take total control of our emotions and try to convince ourselves that our labor process gives us pleasure and makes us happy. Only in this way is it possible to maintain our state of mind for the long term – this is emotional labor.

What is the share of emotional labor in the labor of nannies and domestic workers?

When nannies talk about their experience of child care,  often we can read between the lines that this should be called emotional labor, despite the fact that they do not call it that themselves.

"I always try to be in a good mood when I am at work. Well, who cares about my mood anyway?! No one wants a sad person at home with their thousand problems. It's my duty to have enthusiasm to care for the child.  When you raise your own child, it is completely different, sometimes you get angry, sometimes you praise them, sometimes you pay less attention, sometimes more. But when you are a nanny, it is demanded of you to be considerate and cheerful,” says Manana.

"In one family, I mainly had to deal with the husband and father. I was too shy to go to the toilet, I didn't allow myself. The husband was always home. They often had disagreements. The wife herself was a very good girl. Then I offered to take the child to my house because I felt uncomfortable there," said Tamuna, describing one of her jobs.

Without directly stating, nannies are expected, on the one hand, to be patient and attentive with the child and be kindhearted to the rest of the family members, and on the other hand, be understanding about overtime work and often unpaid work. Despite this, 83% of nannies never go to court nor any other legal bodies to resolve a workplace dispute. Only 17% say they are ready to take their grievances to any of the institutional channels available to them.

 

Source: UN Women, ISET (in the process of publication), "Analysis of the Regulatory Impact of Ratification of 189 ILO Convention"  

83% of nannies never go to court nor any other legal bodies to resolve a workplace dispute.

In Search of Solutions

"Often this is a way out of a hopeless situation. The woman makes the decision to enter the labor market with the skills she already has. People are not preparing for work in advance, they do not know what the market price is, they agree to work based on informal knowledge," said Alexandra Aroshvili, a researcher and activist who recently studied the work of immigrant women.

"Women's voices are so marginalized that even the need for a debate doesn't exist. Millions of migrant women flock from south to north to perform reproductive labor. Care work is becoming an increasingly expensive resource. The state is weakening everywhere. If anything could ameliorate this, it is the unions and trade unions," said Alexandra.

Practice shows that employees in Georgia are unlikely to turn to trade unions. People with common problems cannot or do not form productive relationships. Organizing informal workers, including nannies is not a top priority for existing unions either. Sopo Japaridze, chairwoman of the Independent Trade Union, who has been fighting for years for nontraditional labor to join trade unions, worries that nothing has worked so far to create or strengthen existing trade unions. According to her, people have the wrong expectations from such unions because they believe that the trade union is a separate force that will solve their problems if they pay a membership fee. They fail to realize that the union is their own effort and strength. According to Sopo, nannies, and domestic workers in general, find it especially difficult to stand up for themselves because they are women who have an emotional bond with the employer's family and the child. Therefore, they only apply to the trade union for help in extreme cases when they are fired or left without pay. They avoid uneasy relationships with family.

We talked with Sopo about the potential of unions, how to improve the condition of the employees. We talked about successful practices[6], such as the so-called hiring halls,[7] when all employees become union members and the union offers the employer an artificially raised price - employees do not agree to an offer below the agreed threshold. This approach eventually leads to a domino effect and over time everyone's condition improves. "If we pay a high salary to a nanny, our salary should also increase. The protest has to start somewhere against low wages, and over time, everyone's quality of life improves," said Sopo. 

The study by UN Women showed that workers are willing to become members of a union. 65% of domestic workers say they would join a trade union and pay a monthly contribution of 5% of their salary.

Source: UN Women, ISET (in the process of publication), "Analysis of the Regulatory Impact of Ratification of 189 ILO Convention"

 The study by UN Women showed that workers are willing to become members of a union. 65% of domestic workers say they would join a trade union and pay a monthly contribution of 5% of their salary.

The pandemic significantly changed attitudes towards formalizing work. Before the pandemic only 23% of the surveyed domestic workers were interested in formal work, after the pandemic 72% wanted to formalize if they will have access to government anti-crisis services. 36% of the respondents expect better labor rights and a safe environment, they expect regulations on overtime work, maternity leave, and participation in the pension scheme in the case of formalization.

36% of the respondents expect better labor rights and a safe environment, they expect regulations on overtime work, maternity leave, and participation in the pension scheme in the case of formalization.

 

Source: UN Women, ISET (in the process of publication), "Analysis of the Regulatory Impact of Ratification of 189 ILO Convention"

And Finally, The Salaries of Nannies Can't Meet Their Health Needs

Nannies, like most informally employed people, are given access to a universal health care program only in an emergency. They cannot go to the doctor for preventive healthcare.

Most nannies are middle-aged when the risk of developing reproductive related and other illnesses is increased, and preventive diagnosis is needed to detect them and to prevent illnesses.

"I last saw a doctor 20 years ago when I gave birth. I have not had any need to go. I would be interested in going but if something is found, I have no means for treatment. I really don't have anything wrong with me, only my legs are swollen lately because I'm overworked. I need dental work, but I do not even want to think about it, the treatment costs a lot of money.” Lia, 50 years old.

The Georgian healthcare system does not differentiate service provision based on gender. Government statistics do not collect information on the use of services by gender to clearly identify the needs of women. I talked to health researcher Lela Sulaberidze about this topic. I asked Lela about the health needs of middle-aged women, and how the global health care system sees this age group. It turns out that women really do have special needs, especially those aged 35-65, and this is documented and recognized by the World Health Organization among others. Our health care system does not differentiate women’s needs. Unfortunately, women as well as men at ages when chronic illnesses more often develop, and therefore close health monitoring is crucial, receive the least amount of support.  "We have several priority groups, which are formed according to illness and social needs. If you are not a teacher, a retiree, handicapped, or an artist then you find yourself in a basic health care package, the government limitedly funds preventive studies. For example, a consultation with a gynecologist is included in the program, but if a gynecologist refers me to an oncologist, universal health care will not be able to finance you, ” says Lela.

The nannies say the same thing.

"They took  80 GEL from my son for a simple tooth extraction. If they ask you that much just to remove it, how are you even supposed to think about fixing the tooth?  They don't consider us as humans and families. As soon as the borders open, I want to go to Italy.  More so because I have health problems and I am unable to get treatment," said Tamuna.

Against the background of a country where many external factors hinder good health,  where the issues of education, employment, and ecology are not worked out, where we live in conditions of both stagnation and reform, it is especially important to constantly monitor health to prevent the risks of developing illnesses.

"Cancer statistics also show that the system is broken. We know that the number of cancer patients in Georgia is high because the healthcare system runs a free screening program. The data on the Disease Control page show that late detection of cancer, and consequently mortality, is alarmingly high. The government has an obligation to follow how timely the monitoring is carried out and to support the person to intervene in a timely manner, ”Lela Sulaberidze told me. The case of Tamuna is a clear example of this systemic shortcoming. Watch the video


Before the Nannies Speak Up, I Will Conclude

The government does not recognize the need for childcare and  we can infer this from the fact that maternity leave costs the private sector a total of 1000 GEL.[8] The hour of operation of public kindergartens and schools do not include the agenda of working families[9], nor is motherhood enough for the employer to adjust working hours to the needs of the young child. The government calls any extra expenses the private employer incurs on a mother as "goodwill."

In this chaos, child care is often the only condition for maintaining stability and for saving our  professions.[10] And so what if we give the nanny more than half of our salary? Nannies are paid 5 GEL per hour, and they are still working without rights.

***

The article was prepared and published by Ina Charkviani as part of the Community Action Training- CAT program developed by the Consulting and Training Center and supported by Bread for the World and Erasmus + (EACEA). The author is solely responsible for the content of the document and the views expressed in the text cannot be taken to reflect the views of the Consulting and Training Center, Bread for the World and Erasmus +.

 


[2] DaMotta, Alda Britto. "Doing housework for pay: political struggles and the legal rights of domestic workers in Brazil." Women, development, and labor of reproduction: Struggles and movements - https://bit.ly/2SX7E07

[3] UN Women, ISET (in the process of publication), "Analysis of the Regulatory Impact of Ratification of 189 International Labor Organization Convention (on Domestic Workers)". The findings of the study will be made public by the end of 2020.

[4] UN Women study (in the process of publication), Analysis of the Regulatory Impact of Ratification of 189 International Labor Organization Convention (on Domestic Workers).“

[6] Organizing the Unorganizable: Private Paid Household Workers and Approaches to Employee Representation - https://scholarship.law.unc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3903&context=nclr

[8] Nino Khelaia, Maternity Leave Policy in Independent Georgia- https://1tv.ge/analytics/dekretuli-shvebulebis-politika-damoukidebel-saqartveloshi/