Many wealthy Sri Lankans have domestic help, which you think would be a lopsided agreement, and it is, but it seems to run both ways. Employers can not pay well or on time, they can disappear for months, they can be overbearing or even abusive. However, in Sri Lanka (unlike the Middle East), maids and domestic help have their own power as well. I know a lot of families who bend over backwards, even keeping maids that steal, because ‘they can’t lose the maid’.
For example. A friend of mine recently began locking his door because he thought a maid was stealing his money. He lost the key and then had to smash the door handle through with a screwdriver and wrench. Which was a mess. Meanwhile, everyone in the family knows the maid may be stealing, but ‘we can’t lose the maid’. Indeed, losing a maid is a trauma which can upend a whole household, making even the loftiest executive crumble in the face of dirty laundry and no pol sambol. And, despite the seeming availability of potential workers, there is some severe mismatch in the market. Most people have help that’s been with the family for perhaps generations, in a sort of feudal relationship, or they really struggle to get someone through recommendations from friends.
Domestic help isn’t organized, unionized or corporatized at all. It is literally someone who you pay cash to work and essentially live in your house. And, with a few exceptions, people don’t pay domestics especially well, so they end up working for low wages in houses where there is conspicuous wealth and often cash around. A few of them do steal, and some ask for loans and threaten to go if they don’t get. At holidays, domestic help disappears, often for extended periods, never coming back. I know a family which has gone through like 12 nannies in six years. They don’t officially quit, they just go home for Avurudu (New Year) and never come back.
It’s a strange situation, often comical at times. I know quite a few families where they know jewelry and money are being taken, but they’ll do anything to just no lose the maid and keep the household running. So they just let that stuff go. The situation is obviously more imbalanced the other way around, I mean, domestic help is still largely a situation where they are dependent on their employers, in an almost feudal way, but the dependency does run both ways.
In other news, I’ve got the power.