This report sheds light on two interrelated problems concerning the implementation of ILO Convention No. 189 in Greece.
On the one hand, successive follow-up studies on domestic work show that the Labour Inspectorate and similar welfare services and organizations question workers’ social rights and social insurance benefits, especially for women migrant domestic workers. This is mostly due to bureaucratic inertia, organizational deficiencies, and a near-absent system of policy evaluation of practices and techniques concerning the implementation of Convention No. 189. For this reason, this report examines in detail the policies followed by social agencies responsible for the implementation of Convention No. 189. To this effect, the report presents a novel case study on a key organization its aims, scope, and practices, as well as a subject’s (a domestic worker’s) own impact assessment of the current situation.
Iordanis Psimmenos is a Professor of Sociology in the Department of Social Policy, Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences.
Eleni Poulou is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Social Policy, Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences.
Orestis Istikopoulos is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Social Policy, Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences
On the other hand, social research has shown that agents and agencies are crucial in the implementation of domestic workers’ social, political, and welfare rights; nonetheless, the subject is largely neglected in reports on the topic. Since 2011, the vistas of studies on domestic work have shown that there are conflicting interests among and between workers, employers, associations or trade unions, and local government representatives.
A key finding of this analysis is that domestic workers are oblivious to the existence of ILO Convention No. 189. They are integrated into an informal type of employment on the margins of society, raising concerns about their social, political, and welfare rights. Additionally, organizations and key agents and agencies alienate women domestic workers from the social insurance system, driving them to even greater social isolation.
Finally, the report provides a synopsis of key recommendations based on the middle-range theory of social policy. Our recommendations focus on the quality of statistical data collection, more functional welfare organizations, the creation of a new policy model among agents and agencies, the making of domestic work into an occupation, and, finally, the creation of motives as a way out of domestic work.
This report examines a series of problems arising from implementation of ILO Convention No. 189 as they relate to the social, political, working, and welfare rights of female domestic workers in Greece. Ten years after adopting the convention, it seems crucial to investigate the gaps and barriers that undermine domestic workers’ social development, as well as their future prospects in Greece. The report is based on a case study of a key organization, its aims, scope, and practices, and a subject’s (a domestic worker’s) own impact assessment of the current situation.
The report is structured around four chapters: the first traces the problems with implementing ILO Convention No. 189, the second examines the social context of domestic work in Greece, the third presents a case study on the main parameters relating to the implementation of Convention No. 189, and the fourth proposes a set of recommendations.
With this report, we aim to highlight the imperative problems regarding domestic workers’ living and working conditions, and to suggest ways to improve migrant women’s position in Greek society and the Greek economy.
Problems of Implementation
The problems with implementing migrant domestic workers’ social rights in Greece are rooted in migration policies, labour market and economic reforms, cultural parameters, state welfare organizations, and the conflict of interest between different agencies. This report examines Convention No. 189 and the terms with which it is dictated in Greece. The reason for examining these two issues is that although they have consistently been at the heart of social research and legislative and social policy planning, they are the least analyzed.
The first issue concerns state welfare and labour organization. By analyzing various reports and research studies, serious obstacles have been identified that impede migrant domestic workers’ social rights, including:
- Labour data, statistics, occupational classifications, and scales measuring migrant domestic workers’ conditions are not systematized, standardized, or based on reliable instruments of measurement.
- The Greek Labour Inspectorate and welfare offices are understaffed and lack the legislative frame to intervene in cases of abuse. As a result, there is no valid method for evaluating the implementation of social policies.
- Welfare and social rights are tied to work permits, insurance contributions, and naturalization processes. All the above-mentioned social rights are determined based on the level at which migrants produce value for the country’s social welfare system.
- Benefit claims, and the waiting times attached to those claims, mostly depend on migrants’ insurance contributions and their work permit and naturalization status (the naturalization procedure for a migrant is estimated to take between five and eight years from the day of application).
The second issue relates to the existence of conflicting interests among and between different organizations and key agents who are responsible for migrant domestic workers’ social and political rights. More specific research on the subject has shown that:
- The Social Insurance Institution (IKA) is interested in matching workers’ welfare contributions to claims, while the Manpower Organization (OAED) is interested in matching employers’ labour needs to job allocations.
- Live-in domestic workers appear to suffer from the consequences of the patronage problem, which leads to their welfare marginalization; as a result, the longer they stay in the job, the less they are interested in anything other than an individual form of social protection. Live-out domestic workers face serious social insurance problems since they have many employers, none of whom are responsible for their insurance. In addition, they perform many and varied tasks that inhibit them from developing a specific professional capacity.
- Trade unions do not accept women domestic workers as members due to their interest in creating closed shop conditions as a form of closed labour market, in which they maintain control over their members and their claims.
- Local authorities have vested interests in the local labour market and a personal clientele, as they use the migrant workforce occasionally and according to local needs.
- There is a tradition among employers to treat employees as members of the family and this is even more so in the case of migrant domestic workers, not only because of this tradition, but because unprofessionalism is more acceptable in the employer’s family as long as migrant women perform tasks and duties normally done by family members.
The Socio-Historical Background of Domestic Work in Greece
The presence of domestic work in Greece has a long history. The report comparatively outlines (see Table 1) the main values and stages of the development of domestic work in the country. The Table should be read as a guide or as a social-historical tool comprehensively explaining the organizational and moral norms determining workers’ life chances.
Moving from the eighteenth to the twentieth century, the values identified here denote significant changes in the ways domestic work has been operationalized. These historically demarcated sequences of socio-political transformation of the uses and meanings that domestic work has acquired are important because they explain the different places and positions domestic workers occupy in the economy and society. The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were marked by demographic pressures and the agrarian family. During that time, the institution of the psychokori, referring to an informal form of domestic service presented as a form of philanthropy or indirect adoption was developed, especially in the Ionian Islands. The psychokori was a mechanism that both ensured unpaid work and care in old age and helped rural communities and families cope with orphans and children whose families were unable to sustain them. Families developed specific cultural values tied to the preservation of the family’s fortune and future, through institutions such as the dowry. When women married, they would receive their share of the family’s wealth, usually in the form of cash.
This practice forced poor families to send their daughters away at a young age to work as domestic workers with other families, either with remuneration agreed upon in advance, or without pay but in exchange for a dowry (usually individual and household clothing, a few animals, one or half a house, sometimes a little cash). This was ensured through the adoption of a girl as psychokori, and regulated through contracts. At the same time, colonial values can be seen in how English sovereigns sought to solve the problems of poverty and the organization of British rule in the Eastern Mediterranean by sending cheap labour to the Middle East and its trading ports, such as when migrants were sent from Kythera to Smyrni as unskilled and manual workers or servants.
The early twentieth century was marked by the expansion of the bourgeoisie and the creation of an urban model of family life., which in turn sustained the demand for domestic servants. The female servant validated the bourgeois status of the lady of the house. Women from the Cycladic islands, rural areas (Epirus, Thessaly, etc.), and refugees from Asia Minor provided cheap labour for domestic services.
The collapse of colonial regimes, mainly in Africa, forced wealthy Greeks to emigrate back to Greece, for example in the cases of the Congo and Egypt (1958–1960). Upon their return, wealthy Greeks brought with them a large number of domestic workers as members of their families. These girls had immigrated to Africa at a young age through brokerage networks and had been allocated to domestic work. Usually, they came from the same place as their employers.
During the early Cold War period, the United States, in cooperation with many European governments, supported European emigration. As part of the reconstruction programs, European refugees were distributed according to population needs and labour demands. In Greece two agencies assisted refugees after the war. The first was the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) and the International Refugee Organization (IRO), and the second was the World Council of Churches (WCC) established in Athens in 1951. Alongside the Greek government, these organizations had to deal with a significant refugee problem that was added to those of unemployment, underemployment, poverty, limited jobs opportunities, and low and unequally distributed incomes.
The military junta (1967–1973) acted on behalf of international capital interests, introducing a quota system for labour inflows based on bilateral agreements and importing migrant workers mainly from the Maghreb countries through Gastarbeiter or guest worker programs. In Greece, many women are employed in the sex industry and domestic service. Migrant labourers differed from their Greek colleagues in terms of citizenship, welfare rights, working conditions, and job mobility opportunities. In the 1970s, Filipina domestic workers began to arrive to Greece.The social background and community relations in the home country prepare and make possible the job stratification of Filipina women in personal services in the receiving country. The experience of Filipina domestic worker is based upon both in an ethnic and gender identity and a cultural value system. This nexus involves domestic work as an economic activity that was undertaken both for their own survival as well as that of their family in home country. In this context, domestic work functions a source of self-worth.
Meanwhile, the 1980s saw an increase in political refugees. The establishment of the status of Pontic Greeks from the former USSR was met with patterns of downward mobility. The majority of Pontic Greek from the former USSR are concentrated in informal types of employment: men work as agricultural workers, street vendors, and construction workers; women work as maids, seamstress, and textile workers.
More recently, the mass exodus of female indigenous workers and their integration into the labour market, alongside the near absence of welfare provision by the state, have shifted the burden of child care, elderly care, and domestic work to women from other countries. This gap is filled by disadvantaged groups on the basis of ethnicity, gender, class, and age.
Meanwhile, the collapse of former socialist countries led to the creation of a cheap migrant labour force. The adaptation of female migrants in domestic work is directly linked to the transition of employment in their home country after the collapse of the former socialist regimes. Specifically, the transition was articulated around collective communities to industrial, contractual, and home-based forms of labour organization. There, women were accustomed to more personal modes of control given that they work in similar jobs as in factories that adopted the wage system for the organization of production and in jobs that fall into informal forms of employment related to the agricultural economy and the household economy (i.e. women farmers, dairy producers, street vendors). This process set limitations on the search for employment outside economic areas familiar to them, which was the household. This led them to establish corresponding work expectations.
Domestic Work during Crisis
Major studies have shown that dependencies and inequalities have risen during crisis (2008–2019).
The most recent research shows that the recession has had differentiated effects on migration flows. Chris Tilly, for instance, lists a number of reasons for which the recession has slowed down migration flows between states; T.J. Hatton and J.G. Williamson examine the effects of the migration crisis during the Great Depression of 1930, concluding that migration is positively linked to unemployment in the country of origin and negatively linked to unemployment in the host country.  The fact that the crisis defined the social situation for both countries means that the receiving country had a leading role in defining migration patterns. Additionally, Stephen Castles and Simona Vezzoli suggest that there is a positive effect between crisis and the migrant population. This calls into question the settlement in both home and receiving countries. Finally, Philip Martin,  Demetrios Papademetriou and Aaron Terrazas and others argue that there are institutional and structural parameters, economic or otherwise, that make it difficult to draw broad conclusions about the migrant population. All the above suggest that crisis and migration are more complex than imagined and that much depends on the social context specific to the ethnic and work group.
Concerning migrant workers in Greece, Thanos Maroukis argues that crisis affects the forms and modes of welfare protection. Informal types of social protection based on family and ethnic ties are tested during the crisis. In addition, the crisis in Greece has led to increased rates of homelessness for live-in domestic workers and more part-time labour for live-out domestic workers. C. Bellas and K. Rozakou argue that “new” alternatives strategies are emerging for social security, beginning with the crisis itself.  This means that initial forms of employment are considered more secure, given incomes in times of crisis. For live-out domestic workers, a live-in form of employment seems a more popular alternative to ensuring an income, employment, and social protection.
Furthermore, Iordanis Psimmenos highlights that the crisis (2010–2015) led to downward mobility patterns and enforced job dependencies, past and new ones, that perpetuate domestic workers’ entrapment in domestic labour. The case of domestic workers suggests that employment relations are far more ingrained in their lives and linked to social ties based on class, ethnicity, and gender. Regarding their family, “pseudo-familial” and community relations are a matter of negotiation: they do not function as a form of security against the turbulence of labour market or the economy. Additionally, the domestic worker experiences a dual process of exclusion from social protection that leads to greater marginalization. Barriers are not only created by the system of social protection itself, but also by the culture that is built around informal work, such as domestic work, reinforcing attitudes and practices that legitimize informal and indirect forms of social protection.
Finally, Psimmenos analyses the extent and intensity of crisis in every profession, each of which is affected differently, and how these changes affect domestic workers’ households.  The pattern of downward mobility further intensified between 2015 and 2019, due to the radical decrease of domestic workers’ individual incomes and the prolonged unemployment of their husbands, children, and other family members. This signals changes in both family structure and family relationships. Familial relations collapse as the family is left with a single parent when the husband migrates in search of employment. What is more, the different work paths of both spouses result in narrower social support networks, while voiding the possibility of participation in an informal labour market at the local level.
The report will present three case studies in order to examine the topic in as much detail as possible: 1) women domestic workers, 2) welfare officers, and 3) employers.
- Female migrant domestic workers who have lived in
Greece for over twenty years do not know of the existence of ILO
Convention No. 189. Domestic work is the only job they have known during
their stay in the country. Working conditions are regulated according to a
mutual verbal agreement with employers based on the needs of both parties.
Both women in our case study describe their relationship with their
employers as “familial” and have no relationship with trade unions or
associations. Finally, they are not registered in the insurance system.
Maria, a live-in domestic worker from Georgia, told us:
<em>I’m in Greece for more than 30 years. At 56, I have four children and six grandchildren that I have never met. You can’t even imagine how difficult my life has been. I don’t know any convention and I don’t even care. The only thing that I care about is to be and feel safe. My current employers are very good people; I owe them a lot. My ex-husband used to cause me a lot of problems and when I started to work here I managed to get away from him. They [the employers)] gave me a way out and I feel grateful.</em> Theodora, 44, a live-out domestic worker from Bulgaria, said: <em>I have been in Greece for 20 years and I came for a better future. I work at home right now, I go back and forth, I go for an hour or two and I leave ... I used to be a live-in domestic worker in the beginning, and ten years later I did it again ... There was also a period when I had a home to clean ... it was generally much easier to find work like this in the beginning and from the moment I learned the language, it was even easier … </em> <em>No, I have no idea [about ILO Convention No. 189]. It is very important to have [some form of regulation] ... now I work two hours a day without social insurance, because for two hour there’s no way someone will insure you for two hours. It’s possible they won’t give you the job if you ask for social insurance from the employer. I used to be insured but I paid the premiums myself, now I cannot do it with two hours of work, I cannot afford it now… I cannot be insured due to the crisis and the nature of the work.</em> <em>The employer does not control me, they trust me very much, they have no complaints ... I have nothing to do with unions and associations. I do not know if there are such things here. Of course I would like to participate, you get to know a lot more from associations about things at work, things you are interested in, but also people …</em> <em>Once I went to apply for citizenship, an officer made a mistake. I did not enter the dates; I just had a month’s delay for the papers. The thing is that they are trying to take you for a fool, illiterate, how can I explain? Fortunately, there are few people who work in such services ... he wanted to belittle me … no, it’s more than that. There are different attitudes with services. In the past, for a year, I was summoned every day to the police, to the police station for a check, why I do not know ... until I left that village. This lasted a year. I think because I was from another country.</em> <em>A domestic work law is meant to help. First, by providing social insurance, let’s start with that; second with the tasks. I believe that a law would solve such issues. </em>
- Welfare officers are also not familiar with ILO
Convention No. 189. They try to serve migrants according to what the law
stipulates and to provide services to those who are entitled. They feel
that their organizations aim to help people regardless of ethnicity but
they describe migrants as “tough clients” because of problems with
communication.Katerina, 48, an IKA officer, told us:
<em>No, I don’t know about Convention No. 189. Is it something new? Because during the pandemic many things were left behind ... I’ve worked here [at IKA] for over 20 years and my aim is to help all those who come to me. Of course I can’t do whatever I want. There are some legal criteria that must be met in order to provide a client with our services. I have absolutely no problem with migrants and I try to treat everyone the same. Migrants are sometimes more complicated to serve due to language problems, but that’s all. There is no racial discrimination. Not from my side at least.</em>
- Nor do employers know about ILO Convention No. 189.
They don’t ensure the social insurance of their employee as they don’t
feel that is their responsibility. This issue remains nebulous. What is
more, they describe their relationship with women domestic workers as
“very good” and they consider them to be trustworthy. Eleni, 63, who
employs a live-out Albanian domestic worker, said:
<em>I have never heard about ILO Convention No. 189. To be honest I’ve never had to deal with [the domestic worker’s] social insurance issues because she only comes here twice a week. From what I know she goes to a lot of different houses so perhaps someone else is responsible for her social insurance; perhaps her husband is responsible. I am not sure ... We have a very good relationship and I completely trust her. It doesn’t bother me leaving her in the house alone when I have to be out for some reason. We agree on her tasks together and I almost never ask her to stay overtime. The few times that happened of course I paid her extra.</em> Maria, 45, who employs a live-out Bulgarian domestic worker, told us: <em>Maybe I know a few things [about ILO Convention No. 189], I just do not know what this contract is. That is because when I had to employ a person in my house, I was informed about their rights. Now if it was covered by this convention, I do not know. I was informed about the rights they have, the breaks they should take, the salary, there they informed me that those who have an employee have a different kind of relationship … probably a domestic worker, and it is different when someone lives in the place where she works and their salary is determined differently. I had asked the Work Inspectorate, not at all [meaning that the information she received did not affect the arrangements with the domestic worker], there was just some disagreement. That is, when I asked some acquaintances who needed a person for the house I saw that the prices were different from person to person; some allow or do not allow a break. So I thought I’d go somewhere to get informed. </em> <em>The employment relationship is defined on the basis of a verbal agreement; there was no written agreement on anything. I try to be as “okay” as possible towards them. I did not want it to be something purely formal (meaning the working relationship), that is, I try to have a more friendly relationship for the benefit of my parents, I did not want to … and they [her parents] do not see her as an employee, more as a friend; that is, she is a person who helps us, she is not the woman that I pay, she is the woman who helps me … wages, breaks, vacations, we discuss them and she tells me what she wants. We can communicate with each other … when I offered social security she told me that she is not interested. She is insured from somewhere else, but I did not insist, I want a person to serve me and help me, it is probably not their only work, it is more of a casual job. I told you from the beginning that we consider her as a member of the family, that is, we did not see her as a worker, more like my friend, that is, I consider that she helps me, regardless of whether you pay or do not pay someone, since someone shares your pain and is next to you, generally takes care of you, I cannot see myself as the cold employer, so I do not ask her to do more things.</em>
On the basis of the above analysis concerning the problems with the implementation of ILO Convention No. 189, we recommend the following:
- There is an issue pertaining to the collection of labour data, statistics, occupational classifications, and scales measuring with regards to migrant domestic workers in Greece. To address this, social research, field work, and continuous data collection are needed.
- Welfare organizations are understaffed and dysfunctional, while welfare officers often act in their own interests. To abstain from such practices, the Greek state should create better conditions, including better staffing and a unitary implementation policy for the limitation of informal structures and practices that lead to dubious results.
- To extend maximum protection to domestic workers, the state should establish an organizing model supporting social dialogue and solution-oriented policies between all stakeholders (employers, trade unions, associations, and local authorities) with conflicting interests.
- Domestic work is an occupation, but Greek society does not perceive it as such. To recognize domestic work as an occupation a system of organization and professionalization is required, one that includes apprenticeship, trade unions/ collective representation, and specific legal provisions for labour and social security issues.
- Women domestic workers’ labour has been morally legitimized based on a social division tied to gender and ethnicity. To break the vicious cycle of dependence, we need strong motives for positive discrimination. The Greek State must provide incentives that favour the free flow of labour and job reallocation for these women. Work and residence permits shouldn’t be tied to work or employment permits and visas, former job skills must be recognized by the responsible authorities and social benefits such as maternity security must be provided on the basis of need, not on return contributions.
This report tracked down problems and barriers tied to the implementation of ILO Convention No. 189 in Greece. By examining the social and historical context of domestic work in Greece from the eighteenth to the twenty-first centuries, we can conclude that domestic work is accompanied by traditional divisions such as race, ethnicity, gender, and class.
Our analysis is focused on two main issues. First, the role of the Labour Inspectorate and welfare services organizations in ensuring social rights and social insurance benefits for women migrant domestic workers. Second, conflicting interests among and between workers, key agents, and agencies. By presenting case studies of domestic workers, welfare officers, and employers, we highlight the most pressing problems arising from the implementation of ILO Convention No. 189.
Finally, the report provided a synopsis of key recommendations for public policy makers aiming to improve the living and working conditions of female domestic workers in Greece.
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 I. Psimmenos and K. Kasimati, “Immigration Control Pathways: Organizational Structure and Work Values of Greek Welfare Officers”, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies vol. 29 no. 2, pp. 337-371, 2003.
 Padrone system refers to paternalism and paternalistic values concerning social welfare. For more, see Psimmenos “The Social Setting of Female Migrant Domestic Workers”, in Unveiling Domestic Work in Times of Crisis. Journal of Modern Greek Studies, edited by I. Psimmenos, May, vol. 35 no. 1, pp. 52, 2017.
 Welfare marginalization is a separate distinctive type of marginalization which lies outside of the realms of poverty and unemployment, but is based on welfare. As such, two things are important here: (a) job values of employees acquired for social welfare and protection and (b) welfare agents’ discretionary practices which social exclude migrant women from social welfare as described in Psimmenos and Skamnakis “Migrant Domestic Work and Social Protection”.
 Psimmenos “The Social Setting of Female Migrant Domestic Workers”' pp. 43-66
 I. Psimmenos and K. Kasimati, “Albanian and Polish workers life-stories: migration paths, tactics and identities in Greece”, IAPASIS, Florence: EUI/European Commission Community Research, 2002.
 Psimmenos and Skamnakis “Migrant Domestic Work and Social Protection”.
 An extensive historical study on the subject analyses original archives (legal documents) between 1692–1770 from the island of Lefkada, relating to adoption contracts. See K. Bada and E. Argyrou, “Society and culture of ‘undervalued’ labour: From the adopted daughter, the domestic servant and the woman to the migrant domestic worker” in Labour and social inequalities. Personal Services and servant labour, edited by I. Psimmenos, Athens: Alexandria, 2013 pp. 89–112 (in Greek).
 P. Hantzaroula Crafting Subordination: Domestic workers in Greece in the first half of twentieth century, Athens: Papazisis, 2012 (in Greek);K. Bada and P. Hantzaroula, “Family Strategies, Work, and Welfare Policies toward Waged Domestic Labour”, in Unveiling Domestic Work in Times of Crisis edited by I. Psimmenos, Journal of Modern Greek Studies, May, 35 (1), pp. 17–41, 2017.
 Hantzaroula, Crafting Subordination.
 K. Kasimati, Smyrni. The major Kythera, The Kytherians at Ionia. (18th-20th century), Athens: Gutenberg, 2014 (in Greek).
 Bada and Hantzaroula “Family Strategies, Work, and Welfare Policies toward Waged Domestic Labour”.
 Bada and Hantzaroula “Family Strategies, Work, and Welfare Policies toward Waged Domestic Labour”.
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 Case studies are based on interviews adopting middle-range methodology proposed and analysed in M. Bulmer, Social Science and Social Policy, London: Allen and Unwin, 1986.
This article is part of the Dossier Beyond Convention 189. Available at https://www.rosalux.de/en/beyond-c189