Foreigners are increasingly dominant in the market for housemaids, often illegally. About 250,000 foreigners work as maids here, and only 20 percent of them are Korean Chinese who are officially permitted to do the job, according to the Ministry of Employment and Labor.
Among live-in housemaids, most are Korean Chinese since Korean domestic staff are reluctant to live with their employers. The maids' help is indispensable for dual-income couples who have difficulty getting help from their parents.
A maid earns about W2 million a month, which is better than the minimum wage, because demand is high, but the hours can be grueling (US$1=W1,119).
"I paid W1.5 million to my Korean-Chinese housemaid when my son was a year old, but I'm paying her W2 million now," says one staffer of a conglomerate in Yongsan, Seoul who is raising a 10-year-old son and a five-year-old daughter. "I have no choice but to raise her wage because maids tell each other how much they earn."
Another office worker in Seoul said, "I was perplexed when I heard my Korean-Chinese maid complaining about her wage and talking about the recent minimum-wage increase." He said he raised her wage by W100,000, because it was difficult to find another maid who could take care of his two little sons.
"Korean-Chinese housemaids are paid W300,000 to W500,000 less than locals," said Hwang Yeon-ju, who runs an employment website for domestic staff. "An increasing number of people are looking for Korean Chinese to save money."
There are calls to make it legal for Filipinas to work as maids just as Singapore and other countries do. Kwon Tae-shin, the president of the Korea Economic Research Institute, said, "Dual-income couples can only be relieved of their chores if about 100,000 foreigners are granted work visas as housemaids every year."