If you ever hired anyone for housekeeping services in China, you’re probably familiar with the term “ayi” — that’s how the Chinese call their domestic helpers. Driven by tight schedules, there is a growing demand for their services to maintain a household or take care of children and the elderly.
The State Council, China’s cabinet, noticed this trend and is now looking into how it can better facilitate the development of home services industry and improve professional standards.
During the recent Chinese New Year, the majority of domestic helpers and stay-in nannies in Beijing took leave and headed home for their annual holiday, leaving a scene of chaos and anxiety in their wake.
“Since the sixth day of the Chinese New Year, there is a surging demand for housekeepers in Beijing. We have about 300 orders every day,” said Jiang Lin, an employee of a Beijing-based housekeeping service company.
All over China, it seems supply falls short of demand for domestic help. Official data reveals about 28 million people work as domestic helpers in China. That’s a huge number by any standards, yet the gap is still estimated to be 17 million.
There’s a dilemma facing Chinese society which did not exist in the past — the population is aging. Although Chinese families are now encouraged to have two children, fertility rates are on the decline, partly due to the fact that women are now better educated and possess exciting career prospects.
The shortage of domestic helpers, particularly professionally-trained ones, is keenly felt in the world’s second largest economy. It’s not unusual for highly-regarded “ayis” to make over 10,000 yuan or around $1,500 a month. Painstaking efforts are being made by different agencies to help these housekeepers reach the required level to make good money.
“Before I entered the profession, I heard from other people that the salary is quite high. After I entered, I found that if you want to be paid well, you must have the capabilities. You have to keep improving yourself,” said a domestic helper who asked not to be named.
The potential and scope are certainly there over the coming years for this fledgling industry to grow. But experts warn it’s getting so big and profitable, the government may have to start looking at regulation and standardization.