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1Over the last ten years the subject of this collective work has been taking on importance in sociological research on migration. Historically in Europe and elsewhere in the world, domestic work and female migration have been closely linked at the regional, national, and international levels. And since the 1990s, various demographic, political, and social changes have strengthened that tie through international migration. In response to increasing demand for home care and cleaning services, migrants – especially women – leave home to work for and in private households. Despite the demand for their services and the obvious importance of the role they play, in many cases it is hard for them to obtain residence permits. And as the texts in this work demonstrate, the lasting status of irregular migrant impacts not only on their living conditions but the quality of their social relations at work and ultimately the work itself.

2Debate in the “migration and gender” research field has produced a kind of consensus around a general model – the “global care chain” – based on a social, gendered division of labour that corresponds to international expansion of an economic sector whose workers are primarily women migrants. Home care and cleaning is often represented as women migrants’ “preferred” employment sector, and in any case one that is particularly open to “low-skilled” women. Studies on the living and working conditions of women migrants doing these jobs describe the vulnerability caused by their informal nature, the difficulties these women have claiming their rights, and the specificities of the employer-employee relationship, particularly for undocumented women workers. To better understand female migrant vulnerability but also the resources these women have for improving their situation, this book, coordinated by Anna Triandafyllidou, stresses the necessity of looking beyond general models and taking the specificities of national context into account. First, despite the fact that there has been some harmonization of immigration policies at the European Union level, legislation on residence rights vary by country. Second, as historians Louise Tilly, Joan Scott, Leslie Page Moch and Theresa McBride, together with recent gender-and-work sociology studies, have shown, legislation on and regulation of domestic work – sector restructuring but also efforts to formalize these jobs – vary greatly from one country to another. Likewise, immigration history, including political management of integration and collective mobilizations around the issue of migrant rights, is an important, highly specific component of national context.

3Triandafyllidou’s introduction is followed by eight chapters that analyse the situation of (primarily female) migrants in domestic work and how an “irregular migrant’s” situation impacts on her daily life. The countries studied are Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain. All chapters except the one on the Netherlands were written in the framework of a European Union research study conducted from 2009 to 2011 and funded and coordinated by the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA). Case study authors were asked to describe the political and legal context of foreign migrant work and residency (using available statistics on number of migrants working in the home care and cleaning service sector), to present the recent stages in formalization of domestic work, and to analyse the impact of migrants’ work and situation on their health and family lives. They also discuss the notion of occupational mobility and “career” as they pertain to this category of worker, drawing on the experiences of these women to explore the blurred boundary between legality and irregularity and examine the obstacles to maintaining family life. The conclusion reviews one by one the characteristics of the employment situation of migrants working in this sector and briefly discusses migrant domestic worker access to labour rights and the vulnerability that comes with long-term or repeated “irregular migrant” status.

4Collective regularizations of migrants – in Italy, for example – have often been presented as an acknowledgment by the regularizing country of its need for a domestic help workforce; they are therefore said to reveal a favourable attitude toward integrating foreign workers. Yet what the majority of these chapters stress are the negative effects of regularization, which requires a degree of commitment and support from the employer that in turn results in employee dependence. The employer-employee relationship is in fact the primary focus of these analyses. For migrant women in Italy or Greece who have benefited from collective regularizations, women migrants without residence permits in Germany, and “filles au pair” in Brussels alike, being a live-in domestic employee opens the way for exploitation and other abuses. As we read in these accounts, that situation works to isolate women migrants who are not proficient in the language of the country or have no network to inform them of their rights, other job opportunities, administrative formalities for obtaining healthcare, etc. The employer-employee relationship can also become complex for live-out women migrants. Regardless of national context, employers tend to see themselves as “clients” paying for services to be performed in their home rather than “employers” with legal obligations related to ensuring employee’s wellbeing at work.

5The book echoes other studies that point up the insufficient recognition of the social and economic value of domestic work. The understanding is that this work goes unrecognized because the jobs in question are seen to replace the unpaid work of housewives or other family members. The originality of the book is to show how formal or legal conceptualization of these jobs has changed and to present the measures that have been taken for protecting migrant workers. However, there is little on the political mobilizations that led to the various legal innovations.

6Most of the chapters mention the stratified, hierarchically ordered aspect of this employment sector, and the effects this has on migrant hiring and working conditions. But there is little probing of dynamics, probably because of the book’s structural constraints and the number of points to be discussed in each chapter. So while “ethnicization” of tasks and jobs is mentioned (in the chapter on the context in Spain), only the chapter on the Netherlands (which uses the term “racialization” for this sector) analyses stereotypes about the quality of migrant workers by origin.

7In the excerpts of interview accounts by migrant women themselves, regularization is presented as the sought-after solution to a daily life of fear of being reported and expelled from the country. But the experiences and trajectories of regularized migrants show that obtaining a residence permit does not resolve many of the problems they have with employers and institutions, nor does it protect them from poor working conditions, underpay and discrimination.

8By bringing together a set of national case studies, this work definitely achieves its aim of providing a comparative perspective on the constraints migrant women in domestic work must cope with, women who perform crucial services for households and dependent persons despite the fragility of their legal status. However, each case study could be further developed in connection with two key questions: how sector stratification relates to migrant origin; why these jobs continue – and will continue – to attract women, especially migrant women.

Stéphanie Condon
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Uploaded on on 03/02/2017
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