29 June 2017

Utrecht researcher delineates human rights of female Chinese migrant workers

Many housekeepers in China lack rights

Female Chinese domestic helpers often have to deal with multiple types of disadvantages simultaneously. The wretched conditions of Chinese factory workers recently made the news again because of the stake Ivanka Trump's fashion company has in a Chinese shoe factory. Less attention is paid, however, to the multiple layers of disadvantages for Chinese domestic helpers who left the countryside for the city in search of a better future. They work long hours under poor conditions, have limited access to social services and lack sufficient supervision by the labour inspectorate.

These are conclusions of the thesis Human Rights and International Labour Law: Issues Concerning Migrant Women Working as Domestic Helpers in China, which PhD candidate Qinxuan Peng defends on Friday 30 June 2017 at Utrecht University.

Undervalued working force

In her research Peng describes the status of the social and economic rights of female labour migrants who move from the countryside to the city to work as domestic helpers. She outlines the distressing situation of these women on the Chinese job market and the Undervalued working force they find themselves in.

The hukou system, which divides all Chinese citizens into those born in rural areas and those born in cities, has tremendous impact on their situation. Anyone with rural hukou status working in a city has more difficulty to get access to many of the social and public services subsidised by the local city government than local hukou holders.

In addition, their children generally have poorer access to educational facilities than local residents with urban hukou status. Peng: 'The domestic helpers have too little knowledge of their rights to defend themselves and cannot afford a lawyer.'

Fundamental human rights 

There is a world to be won with regard to gender equality and human rights for women working as domestic helpers. The needs of these labour migrants can be categorised as follows:

  • The need for equal treatment to other workers
  • The need for guaranteed good working conditions
  • The need for guaranteed access to justice

In her study, Peng presents a proposal for improving the national legal system in China. It includes establishing a Domestic Helpers Observatory to the Labour Union to better present domestic helpers’ interests.