Asian housemaids fear for future amid Cyprus slump

Asian housemaids fear for future amid Cyprus slump

NICOSIA - With recession-hit Cyprus facing an even deeper slump on the back of a draconian EU-IMF bailout, thousands of Asian housemaids, nannies and caregivers on the small Mediterranean island fear for their jobs and futures.

For years, Filipina, Sri Lankan and Vietnamese women have been a status symbol in Cypriot homes, working six days a week, often for very long hours, in exchange for room, board and 330 euros (S$532) a month.

The island's overall unemployment is already around 15 per cent and is expected to grow sharply this year and next, as GDP plunges a forecast 8.7 per cent in 2013 and another 3.9 per cent in 2014.

With the harsh austerity measures imposed by the deal to rescue Cyprus's failing banks and bankrupt government, businesses will close, many people will lose their jobs and those who keep them will see their incomes reduced.

So the luxuries of expensive cars, fancy holidays abroad and domestic help will become increasingly unaffordable.

Fely, a Filipina who has been working as a cleaner in offices and homes for the past five years, is already feeling the pinch.

"They cut my work hours by half," she said worriedly.

"One of my part-time employers told me I should stop coming... They told me if they settle this problem about their money at the bank they will call me again."

She was referring to the fact that the bailout deal included a "haircut" on deposits above 100,000 euros, meaning some businesses and individual depositors will lose large amounts of capital.

Cypriot immigration officials say there are around 35,400 domestic workers in Cyprus, but with increasing pressure on big bank accounts and soaring unemployment, some households are looking to share their "help."

"Domestic workers are considered to be a luxury for most of our citizens, so when you are in a financial crisis, the first thing that you need to cut is the luxury," said Riginos Polydefkis, a senior immigration official.

For those who lose their jobs, the outlook is stark.

To begin with, they have no right to unemployment compensation, and if they fail to find a new employer within 30 days of being laid off, they become illegal.

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