SHANGHAI is facing an earlier than usual ayi shortage, as many of the city’s domestic helpers are already heading back to their home provinces for next month’s Chinese New Year.
Wages for domestic helpers have risen by as much as 50 percent in the past six months, perhaps explaining why ayi feel they can afford to head home earlier than usual.
Many families in the city are scrambling around trying to arrange alternative help for now — even though the Spring Festival is not until February 19.
“We noticed a sharp rise in numbers of ayi leaving for home from January 4,” said Sun Li, deputy general manager at yunjiazheng.com, a leading online market for domestic services which claims to have one-third of Shanghai’s estimated 600,000 ayi on its books.
“Within a couple of days, 5 percent of our ayi said they wouldn’t be available until after Spring Festival,” added Sun.
Interviews with Shanghai agencies have indicated that only 50 percent of ayi will still be in the city by the end of the month, and by Chinese New Year’s Eve, more than 80 percent will have gone home, said Sun.
“And of those remaining, only 2 percent will be taking temporary jobs,” added Sun.
In recent months, being an ayi has become a more lucrative job.
Pan Yuqun, director of the Lianyang Community Branch of Xuhu Agency, said she observed a leap in hourly wages for in the second half of last year.
“Previously, the average hourly wage was 20 (US$3.23) to 22 yuan, but now ayi are paid up to 28 yuan per hour — even 30 yuan if an employer is very happy with the work,” Pan said.
Agencies said ayi have been harder to find in recent years, with the shortage driving up wages.
In Shanghai, ayi generally command higher wages than those in other major cities.
Some nannies looking after babies and new mothers are better paid than average white-collar workers.
But agencies warn that ayi increasingly competing in higher-paid categories will result in a sharp shortage of house helpers for elderly people during the Spring Festival.
“Old people unable to look after themselves are in most urgent need of helpers around Chinese New Year as many young adults take advantage of the holiday to travel,” said Wei Min, co-founder of Lianjia Agency.
Yunjiazheng.com said ayi rates during the Spring Festival this year are likely to double or triple.
But some householders have already given up finding a temporary ayi, deterred by the hassle of finding one and the price hike.
One mother of an 8-month-old said she was sorry that her ayi was leaving her for home very soon because she relied on her help, but also understood.
“My husband has promised to take a break from his business to lend a hand,” the mother said.
“But I understand that my ayi is eager to go home at this time of year because she has been away from her family for a whole year,” she added.