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Cleaning staff shortage affects cities
( 2003-10-08 09:44) (China Daily)

Suo Changshu was laid off from her job at the Beijing Insulating Material Factory nine years ago.

She had taken up various kinds of jobs since then, including cook, lift operator and cleaning woman before she finally decided to serve as a house servant.

Now 46 years old, she is paid on an hourly basis by 10 families in her community with a monthly income of roughly 1,000 yuan (US$120).

"Household service is considered a loss of face for most Chinese people," she said, recalling the hard work behind domestic chores. "I could hear gossip behind my back. But thanks to the support of my family, I threw the face matters away and held my head high.

"An old saying goes that one may distinguish oneself in any trade. Face does not count at a time of need and cannot be traded for money. I gain respect from others while I earn money through proper jobs. There is nothing to be ashamed of."

She suggested laid-off women in Beijing should take up similar service in their community, as "laid-off workers in their 40s have no advantage over young people in the job market in terms of advanced skills, physical condition and educational background.

"So we should better choose jobs that suit us. Community household service certainly is the best choice."

However, unlike Suo, few Beijingers are willing to do the housework service. While many laid-off workers are busy looking for work, local domestic helpers are in great demand in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai.

Less than 15 per cent of household workers in Shanghai and 10 per cent in Beijing are local residents, according to surveys from the Shanghai Statistics Bureau and the Beijing Home Service Association.

Also, the Shanghai survey said that about 95 per cent of the families which need household helpers are in favour of hiring local workers over migrant ones. It also found that residents believe local labourers have advantages in things like level of education, work skills and overall stability.

"The rising ratio of local domestic helps may improve the quality of our business, since the constant movement of migrant workers prevents them from developing into professional cleaning staff," said Li Dajing, deputy director of the Beijing Household Service Association, stressing the importance of having local workers doing domestic jobs.

Li agreed that traditional ideas of treating domestic helps as humble servants is the main reason for Beijingers not doing household service.

"Additionally, the shortage problem has deteriorated due to relatively low salaries," Li said.

For instance, some laid-off workers from State-owned enterprises who were used to working eight hours a day cannot adapt themselves to the pace of a full-time household job," Li mentioned.

"What's more, since the laid-off workers in Beijing can receive basic welfare payments of 390 yuan (US$47) a month, local workers often ask for higher pay than migrant workers, indirectly weakening their competitiveness in the job market."

To encourage more local people to take part in maintaining househoulds, service associations and agencies in Beijing and Shanghai have both taken action to attract more local workers, such as setting up hotlines and holding recruitment events.

However, the effectiveness of those measures are far from meeting expectations, since o