The number of domestic workers decreased continuously in Sweden over the course of the twentieth century. As a share of the total workforce, the proportion of waged domestic workers had fallen to 2.9% in 1950 and 0.05% by 1990, largely because of the mechanization of domestic work, the growth of public child-care and eldercare, a shortage of labour, and increased taxes on labour. Yet at the end of the twentieth century the demand for domestic services increased, and there were signs that the informal sector was growing. In 2007 the Swedish Parliament decided to make domestic services—domestic cleaning, cooking, clothes care, snow removal, gardening, child-care, and help with personal hygiene—tax deductible for private persons. For many this reduced the cost of home help by 50%. The reform started a political debate (the ‘maid debate’), with opponents of the reform arguing it would create a new, low-pay sector of female and immigrant workers, characterized by asymmetric power relations between families and domestic workers, exploitation, and bad working conditions in general. Following the reform, the number of domestic service businesses and employees increased rapidly. In the second half of 2007, 46,000 people applied for the tax deduction, and by 2011 their number was almost 416,000. From 2009 to 2011, the number of hours of waged domestic work doubled to the equivalent of 61,400 full-time jobs a year.
A previous report, which was based on the same data used here, describes various characteristics of the workers (for example, gender, age, birth, educational background, previous career, reasons for taking the job, and experience of informal work in the domestic sector) (http://hkr.diva- portal.org/smash/record.jsf ?pid=diva2:556163). The present study describes working conditions and job satisfaction among domestic workers employed by Swedish firms. The empirical data were collected by means of a questionnaire sent to employees of companies with five or more employees in the four southernmost counties of Sweden (Skåne, Blekinge, Halland, and Kronoberg), which together have a population of 1.9 million out of national total of 9.45 million. A total of 249 questionnaires were returned by domestic workers from 86 companies.
Almost 70% of respondents were in permanent employment. About 80% were female (of the total workforce in Sweden, 88% of men and 83% of women were in permanent employment, and among cleaners in general 64%). About 28% said they had managerial functions. One possible explanation for this high percentage was that their workplaces were rather small and geographically scattered (about 30% reported their workplaces had 5–9 employees, and 36.5% reported that their workplaces had 10–19 employees.)
About 54% work full time (35 hours or more per week). According to a national survey in Sweden, 76.6% of the workforce work full time. Male domestic workers are more likely to work full time (76%) than female workers (about 49%), and those with managerial functions work are more likely to work full time (74%) than those without managerial functions (47%). Of those who work fewer than 30 hours per week, only 43% reported that their employer could not offer them more hours.
Most of the respondents did routine, weekly domestic cleaning (89%). A majority also did one- off cleaning (62%) and end-of-tenancy cleaning (58%), and about half of them also did window cleaning (46%). Other common tasks were clothes care and shopping. Only a small proportion reported providing care for the elderly (7.7%), the disabled (1.2%), or children (2%). One explanation for the low percentage of care work is that the public sector provides most of these services in Sweden, while such gaps as exist are largely covered by private care companies (funded by the public purse).
Tasks are divided by gender. For example, 34% of male workers did odd jobs, compared to 3.5% of the female workers, and while almost 48% of the male workers shovelled snow, only 8% of the female workers did. The female workers performed tasks that are traditionally considered to be female, namely routine domestic cleaning, one-off cleaning, clothes care, and child-care and eldercare.
Most of the domestic workers’ wages included time spent travelling between jobs (73%) and most of them had their travel costs paid for by their employers (84.5%). Most of them took their breaks in other places than their company’s break room (74%).
When asked about their relationships with managers, 90.5% agreed with the statement that they received help and support from their managers (compared with a national survey of general cleaners in Sweden, of whom 28% said they rarely or never received support from supervisors); 74% agreed with the statement that they planned their work with their supervisors (again, 22% of general cleaners in the national survey said they had difficulty getting information from their supervisors about what should be given priority); and when asked about their relationships with co-workers, 86% agreed with the statement that they got help and support from their co-workers. About 50% agreed with the statement that they did not meet their co-workers often enough, although not all domestic workers longed for co-workers: 20% said they took the job because it entailed little interaction with co-workers. Meanwhile, 19% took the job because it entailed few interactions with customers.
In the ‘maid debate’ prompted by the Swedish Parliament’s deliberations about the tax reform, opponents argued it would create a new and exploitative low-pay sector for female and immigrant workers, with poor working conditions. The debate thus contributed to the public image of working conditions in domestic service as generally bad. We therefore asked the respondents if they felt that others looked down upon their work, and 25.5% agreed with the statement, while almost 9% said that they were ashamed of their work and chose not tell others what they did for a living.
This public image and the shame felt by some of the domestic workers are in sharp contrast to how they felt about the work per se. Almost 94% agreed with the statement ‘I enjoy my work’, and 78% with the statement that the work was more fun than they thought it would be. When asked what they thought was best about their work, the most common answer referred to customers in some way (57%)—for example, meeting them, helping them, and pleasing them. The second source of satisfaction was flexibility and self-determination (43%)—for example, being able to influence how many hours they had to work, when to work, and how to do the work. In answering another question, 85% agreed with the statement that they preferred cleaning because the hours were flexible. A large number said that the work was varied, that they liked the contact they had with their supervisors, and that it was a form of physical exercise.
When asked about the worst aspects of their work, many said it was stressful (24%), physically demanding (21%), and low paid (11%), and that some customer interactions could be difficult.
Given the well-documented health risks of cleaning work, we asked if they thought their work affected their health: 31% agreed with the statement that the work had an adverse effect on their health, and about 50% agreed with the statement, ‘I believe my work will have an adverse effect on my health in the long term’.
Kristianstad: Kristianstad University Press , 2012. , 37 p.