As part of our current research project on au pairs in the UK my Research Assistant and I are looking at the ads that are placed for au pairs and nannies as a way of seeing what sorts of work people are expected to do. Some of the ads are straight forward and business like, some are distressing, some amusing. My favourite so far is this pithy one posted on Gumtree last year, which is honest at least:
GOD FEARING AU PAIR NEEDED
We are old parent from United State of America (Florida)but presently in United Kingdom (London) we need a experience Au pair and house keeper for our grand children.
Nothing we had seen so far compares to an ad recently discussed on Gawker: http://gawker.com/5974543/you-are-not-qualified-to-be-this-queens-couples-nanny-and-heres-a-65+question-survey-to-prove-it . A family in Queens, NY have developed an on-line survey with 65 questions to try to find a nanny they think is good enough for their children. The story and the comments make for amusing reading but behind this outlandish display of an unreasonable recruitment practice is a much more humdrum story of attitudes towards childcarers and other household workers which is revealed in the kinds of controls that this family appear to want to exercise over the nanny they will employ.
The ads we’ve been looking at (and our analysis is only just starting) tend to contain a long list of dos and don’ts: you Will be vegetarian, you Will NOT smoke, you Will clean the whole house three days a week and the kitchen every day etc etc and very little by way of the normal information you would expect to get in a job ad. Many employers are vague about salary, none mention leave entitlement and some are frankly illegal (specifying age, gender or nationality wanted). And in the ones we’ve looked at so far employers are more likely to ask for a photo of the applicant than relevant qualifications. Not only do these ads show employers want workers to carry out large amounts of (sometimes quite stressful) work for pay which is generally well below minimum wage, they also want to choose the precise character of the person they will employ.
This approach is endemic in the employment of domestic workers, particularly when they live-in and it is an aspect of the sector that makes it inherently problematic. The fact that domestic workers live in and do tasks that other household members do for free seems to make it very difficult for some people to understand their work as WORK; deserving of all the rights, respect and rewards that any other job might. And that includes a fair and reasonable recruitment process.