The 'invisible army' of domestic workers: women's work in a global recession
de la Blétière, Vanessa
Sociology DINÂMIA - (Centro de Estudos Sobre a Mudança Socioeconómica) Lisbon, Portugal
Sociology ISCTE - Instituto Superior de Ciências do Trabalho e da Empresa Lisbon, Portugal
History DINÂMIA - (Centro de Estudos Sobre a Mudança Socioeconómica) Lisbon, Portugal
Law DINÂMIA - (Centro de Estudos Sobre a Mudança Socioeconómica) Lisbon, Portugal
Paid domestic workers are an "invisible army of workers" (Ramirez-Machado; 2003) estimated by the ILO (2008) at 100 million worldwide. Based on 25 interviews of domestic workers and employers in Lisbon and the Azores Islands, we will consider gender relations within a highly gendered sector of the Portuguese labour market, in the context of the economic downturn. Domestic work is precarious employment. This vulnerability is enhanced in a recession, when domestic workers may be considered expendable 'luxuries'. At the same time, there is a surprising suggestion that the affective nature of domestic work means that some domestic workers continue to work despite not being paid. The legal vulnerability of domestic workers is linked with its private workplace and the way in which it is defined strictly as "women's work": most obviously, the formal definition of domestic workers in Portugal is solely in the feminine form. There is an impact on societal expectations, with interviewees being unprepared for male domestic workers, seeing this as the preserve of women or gay men. This is linked with the lack of professionalization in this sector; the majority of immigrant women do not have prior experience of domestic work despite this job permitting them entry to the labor market. New political and social movements and changes to forms of employment and recruitment may reduce the social devaluation and begin a process of socialization resulting in increased legal regulation, societal recognition, and gender equality in the sector.