Transnational Care Agencies: Formalization As a Fig Leaf?

Monday, 16 July 2018: 18:15
Oral Presentation
Aranka Vanessa BENAZHA, Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany
Ewa PALENGA-MÖLLENBECK, Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany
A new division of care work and the transnational migration of care workers related to it is a permanently increasing global phenomenon. At the same time, it continues to be better understood with newly developed analytical frameworks, both on the micro-level and the macro-level. In our presentation, we address two aspects that we believe deserve attention in this context. First, we take a look at the so far neglected meso-level, exemplified by transnational organizations that act as intermediaries between home-care givers and home-care receivers. Second, we go beyond the conventional, methodologically nationalist framework in order to capture the specific transnational character of the emerging care-work-labour market in Germany.

In our comparative, cross- and transnational research project “Decent Care Work? Transnational Home Care Arrangements”, we track migrant care worker recruitment by transnational agencies in Central Eastern European Countries, and follow migrant 24-hour care givers in the global city of Frankfurt (Germany). Hereby we employ a comparative framework which covers two other global cities, Vienna (Austria) and Zurich (Switzerland). Our first results show that transnational care agencies are filling a gap in the German care regime: Providing a hidden narrative, they satisfy a deeply culturally rooted demand for care work, traditionally performed by female family members which is now outsourced to cheap mobile workers.

At the same time, the agencies’s narrative adds legitimacy to migrant care work and promises to guarantee professional care and “decent” working conditions. However, the agencies’ promise of formalizing an informal economy appears dubious. Their business model relies on rendering the actual nature of the contract invisible to both care givers and care receivers by relying on a complicated legal framework and public policies (in both the sending and the receiving countries), which can be characterised as semi-compliance and complicity.