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Who Cleans The Welfare State?

December 1, 2010

In this report Anna Gavanas, social anthropologist at the Institute for Futures Studies, explores the dynamics of migration, social exclusion and labor market informalization through the lens of the domestic service sector in Stockholm

In this report Anna Gavanas, social anthropologist and associate professor at the Institute for Futures Studies, explores the dynamics of migration, social exclusion and labour market informalization through the lens of the domestic service sector in Stockholm. Based on a recent interview study, Gavanas identifies crucial aspects of a range of large scale social and economic shifts in Sweden. Especially in focus are the conditions of migrant domestic workers in a globalized economy.

“The interrelations between the formal and informal aspects of the domestic service sector have been ignored in the public debate in Sweden. The symbiotic organization of formal and informal actors and practices is still proliferating, regardless of the tax deductions that were supposed to formalize the domestic service sector,” says Gavanas.

Gavanas´ report highlights the blind spots of the famous “Swedish maid debate,” where proponents for tax deductions for domestic services have claimed that a formal (“white”) labour market for domestic services will replace an informal (“black) labour market.

“Public discussions tend to ignore that there are actors who still have no other option than working in the informal labour market, as well as the continuing demand for informal services -despite the tax deductions,” says Gavanas.

Moreover, the report demonstrate the ways sexual harassment and blackmailing operate in negotiations between actors in Stockholm´s domestic service sector;

“In the domestic service sector, it is not uncommon for clients and employers to force down wages and to blackmail workers with the least bargaining power. It is not uncommon for workers to be expected to provide sexual services or to work extra for free, says Gavanas.

The tax deductions for domestic services (introduced in 2007) have dual consequences to processes of social inclusion and exclusion. Actors with access to the formal labour market report improved conditions towards social inclusion – whereas actors without access to the formal labour market report further exclusion.

“It is obvious that undocumented migrant workers and workers without fluency in the Swedish language have the least bargaining resources, and are used as an exploitable pool of “flexible” labour in the Swedish domestic service sector,” says Gavanas.

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