For a long time in China, ayis (nannies) has been considered to be an inferior group who has low social status and low educational background. Few people with college diploma or above are willing to engage in this job.
According to the data from National Bureau of Statistics, in 2014 Chinese domestic service industry, axis with college diploma or above accounted for 5.8 percent in Beijing, 4.1 percent in Shanghai, 4.3 percent in Shenzhen and 2.5 percent in Guangzhou. With nearly a decade of data according to the Jiangsu Province Family Service Industry Association, 114 people have college degree and above (30 undergraduates and 84 junior college students) among the registered 3581 housekeeping staff. The majority still only have low academic qualifications.
However, urban residents’ demand for highly-educated ayis has been increasing in recent years. High cultural literacy, strong learning ability and excellent communication skills are the main factors to make this group have more competitiveness. “They are more clever than ordinary ayis. I do not need to explain too much because they always quickly know what I mean,” said Zhang Zixin, a 4-year–old girl’s mother in Nanjing. According to the Morning News, existing ayis can only meet 30 percent market needs in Shanghai. There are at least 100 thousand job vacancies, approximately 1/3 of which require highly educated ayis. However, the current number is 3,000 or so, creating great disparity with market demand. This situation also exists in other big cities in China. “It is very difficult to hire a young ayi who can not only clean the house but also educate my daughter. You know my job is too busy to look after her, so educational background is of great importance,” Zhang Zixin added.
Compared with some other service-oriented jobs, educated ayis can earn more on account that they provide full range of customised service including family catering, gardening, home secretary or even a driver. “In general, ordinary ayi earn ¥3,000 every month, while senior nurse can gain ¥6,500 or more in Nanjing,”said Qin Chunhua, a 48-year-old ayi with a junior school diploma. Rich people are willing to pay high wages as long as the ayi can reach their standard. “A Mr. Lee at the age of forty-four is often on official business, so he told us he would like a educated ayi to take care of the whole family, and you would not believe the yearly salary is ¥120,000, exceeding many graduates’ first job wage,” said Du Hong, the person in charge of Quan Xin housekeeper company.
Since highly educated ayi has an immeasurable market, why do not people with college diploma or above engage in ayi? What is public attitude? With this doubt, I issued a total of 220 questionnaires in three universities to investigate college students’ awareness of the domestic industry and employment will. The results show that 94 percent of the respondents have never had contact with a highly-educated ayi. It is obvious that this group has quite a low social recognition. When asked about whether they are willing to work as a ayi if they fail to find a satisfying job in the future, 93 percent chose no. The three main reasons include not personal interest, professional counterparts and bleak industry outlook. It is very interesting to note that 87 percent of those surveyed support highly educated people to enter the domestic service industry. But their attitude reaches the opposite conclusion. “Although Chinese culture has always stressed that there is no distinction among occupation, society still remains prejudice of ayis. I support the development of this job, but I do not want to be a ayi in case that I might be looked down upon by others,” said Luo Xiaojie, a senior student from Nanjing Normal University.
College students’ unwillingness to work as a ayi may have connection with the lack of safeguard. In today’s China, the three kinds of domestic service modes are acquaintance employment system, intermediary system and employee system. The first two both lack basic labour security. Generally, employers and ayis only reach a verbal agreement but no written employment contract. There is no limit to the minimum wage, let alone paid leave. Ayi’s work is very unstable. If the employer is not satisfied, ayi can be dismissed at any time. At present, Guangzhou has 1,447 domestic service companies among which only the largest dozen adopt employee system and the vast majority is intermediary system. It means that domestic workers sign service contracts with the company, rather than labour contracts. The service contract does not contain Five Social Insurances and Housing Fund, providing no labour security to protect ayis.
The famous family service brand "Good Su Sister” founded by Jiangsu Province Women's Federation only provide training services, but does not sign labor contracts with domestic workers. It can be seen that even with the support of the government, the domestic industry's protection is still not perfect. “Household income is good, but there is no pension and work-related injury insurance, so that higher education professionals are absolutely worried. Under the circumstances that other companies provide social insurance, it is difficult for college students to regard this job as a lifelong career, but as a temporary, transitional occupation. The turnover is very high,” said Li Xueqin, the manager of Jiangsu Province Family Service Industry Association. Chinese domestic service industry still adopts the small and scattered industry structure, without the road of specialisation and industrialisation.
However, there still remain some young women who choose to become ayis after graduation. Guo Yao, a 25-year-old girl with bachelor's degree told me her experience, “I did not find a satisfactory job two years ago, and then through a chance I met my current employer, just like The Ayi Dairies heroine. The love for the little child and the high wage drove me to become a ayi. I like my job, and parents support my choice so there is no pressure.”
In order to attract more new blood like Guo Yao and change the current situation, the Jiangsu Province Family Service Industry Association is working hard to attract more college graduates to go into this profession. “We call them family assistant instead of ayi to change public’s prejudice. You know address really matters, so this effort may make people view the job differently,” Li Xueqin added. “We also plan to set up home service class in university, aiming at improving ordinary ayis’ cultural level so that enhance their competitiveness. Through a two-year study, an ayi can gain an associate diploma regardless of age.”