Expats fuel demand for domestic helpers

Updated: 2012-03-02 07:58

By Chen Xin and He Dan (China Daily)

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BEIJING - The demand for home services from expats in China is rising as an increasing number have come to work and live in the country, mainly in big cities.

Around 600,000 expats were living on the Chinese mainland at the end of 2010, and about 231,700 of them had work permits, according to the latest national census and the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security.

Samina Hasan is from Pakistan and works at an international organization in Beijing.

She hires a 37-year-old Chinese domestic helper who has worked for her family for three years.

"She does cleaning and washing in my house and sometimes cooks for me and my husband. She knows quite well about our habits and our special days of religious significance," she said.

Hasan said she uses sign language to communicate with the helper.

"I think we could communicate better if I spoke better Chinese and she spoke more English. But it's not a problem."

Hasan said almost all the expats she knows in Beijing need domestic help.

Shi Bohong, general manager of Rikang Home Service Company in Beijing, said his firm provides services to more than 20 expat families.

Shi said many of his clients are employees at embassies who ask domestic helpers to go to their homes in the early morning to make breakfast and then do some chores and laundry until they come back home at 5 or 6 pm in the evening.

Domestic helpers may also be asked to take care of a baby, he said.

Around 1,000 domestic helpers register with Shi's firm but only around 40 of them can speak fluent English.

In Shanghai, as the city receives more and more people from overseas, clients with diverse backgrounds may vary in specific requirements, said Xiao Weiping, an administrative staff member in Shanghai Ren Ren Housekeeping.

"People from Japan and Singapore want their home maintained spotlessly clean, Germans expect domestic helpers to do housework following strict orders and people from Hong Kong are relatively particular about food," he said.

To make helpers meet those demands, Xiao said his company trains employees to speak basic English, cook exotic food, master ironing skills and use imported electrical appliances.

As a result, a domestic helper usually charges 30 to 50 percent more for foreign clients than domestic families, said Zhang Zhiliang, manager of a domestic service company in Shanghai.

A domestic helper surnamed Yuan said she has worked for a Singaporean family with four children in Shanghai for more than seven years.

"I am getting along very well with the family, and my salary was raised from 1,800 yuan ($286) a month in 2003 to 4,000 yuan now," said Yuan, 40, from Anhui province.

Some expats say they sometimes encounter disagreements with helpers because of differences in culture or lifestyle.

Shi from Beijing Rikang Home Service Company said more expat families now search for ideal housekeepers, rather than merely a cleaner.

"We frequently receive calls from foreign clients who need a housekeeper who speaks fluent English, has a good education background, drives and cooks, and knows party preparation, flower arrangement as well as family education," he said.

A housekeeper who meets the requirements would get paid 12,000 yuan a month, but no one in his company is qualified for the job, said Shi.

Wang Xinshan, a professor at Wuhan University, said that as China becomes more open to the world, more foreign families in big cities such as Beijing and Shanghai have demands for high-end domestic services that are in short supply.

There is only one specialized vocational school in the country that trains professional domestic helpers, Wang said.

"More specialized institutions, and at higher education level, should be established to train more home service professionals," Wang said.