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Belgium had a long tradition of direct informal employment in paid domestic work, which has undergone formalisation through the introduction of the ‘service voucher system’. This policy triangulates the employment relationship between workers and clients through introducing third-party employing agencies, and guarantees workers’ access to labour and social security rights. Up until now, most international studies of paid domestic work have focused on direct and privatized worker-employer relationships (Anderson, Doing the dirty work?: The global politics of domestic labour, 2000); Hondagneu-Sotelo, Domestica: Immigrant workers cleaning and caring in the shadows of affluence, 2001); (Lutz, The New Maids: Transnational women and the care economy, 2011); Moras (Sociology Mind, 3(3), 248–256, 2013); (Romero, Maid in the U.S.A., 1992). This literature has shown that paid domestic work often features ‘personalised’ (emotionally-loaded) worker-employer relationships. The goal of this article is to analyse the impact of the introduction of the service voucher system on personalisation processes affecting paid domestic work in Belgium. Is personalisation bound to disappear with the sector’s formalisation or is it intrinsic to paid domestic work? We show that personalisation is not threatened by formalisation policies which do not challenge the structural inequalities underpinning paid domestic work (and to which personalisation develops as a remedy). In the Belgian case, the service voucher policy did not challenge the crucial role of personalisation for finding and keeping jobs, as well as improving working conditions. The article shows that personalisation is an informal social protection strategy which developed in the exploitative conditions of informality, but is likely to survive formalising policies. Indeed, formalisation did not eliminate the need for personalisation, as it did not substantially improve working conditions in the sector, failed to recognise workers’ qualifications and to challenge the gendered and migrantized character of domestic work employment.
Safuta, A., & Camargo, B. (2019). The more things change, the more they stay the same? The impact of formalising policies on personalisation in paid domestic work - the case of the service voucher in Belgium. Comparative Migration Studies, 7(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40878-018-0111-5