Ayi app is a welcome new service
Published: Jul 18, 2013 05:38 PM
Illustration: Lu Ting/GT

Illustration: Lu Ting/GT

Expatriates in Shanghai are happy to hear that at the end of August an English version of a mobile app will be launched to help them find housekeepers and nannies. The Shanghai Household Services Association hopes that via the new technology, it will be easier for families to find the right ayi.

Ayi play an important role in many families, especially those with babies or senior citizens. It's not hard to find an ayi via agencies at Shanghai's street corners. But finding a reliable ayi is a big challenge for both local and foreign families.

Ideally speaking, we hope to find an ayi who is hardworking, honest, hygienic and responsible. But in reality we have all heard stories of terrible ayi and employers often find it difficult to find a good ayi.

In many cases, ayi stay home either alone or with family members, such as young kids and the elderly. Many employers worry that they can't be sure their ayi will fulfill their responsibilities. Their concerns are not groundless.

One old neighbor in my hometown shared her experience of working as an ayi for a relatively wealthy Shanghai family. Every day she would prepare a nutritious soup for the family before they came home from work. She proudly told us that she would drink the first batch of soup and then add water and boil it for a while. For a long time, the employers didn't notice.

She gave the game away when she stealthily drank bowls of ginseng soup. The ginseng proved to be so nutritious that her complexion was abnormally sanguine for several days and her boss guessed about her behavior and sacked her.

There are far more serious cases of ayi caught on video camera mistreating the infants in their care. Nannies have been caught mixing sleeping pills in milk powder so that the baby sleeps for a whole afternoon while the ayi relaxes. Some ayi just leave a crying baby alone and continue watching TV in another room.

And there are many reported cases of ayi running away with their employer's jewelry and other valuables.

Unfortunately, in many cases, the family does not know enough about an ayi before they hire one, and the information registered with agencies is often incomplete and even deliberately falsified.

It's obvious that there is a huge demand for ayi, but who can guarantee a reliable supply?

I have to admit that even for a local family, finding a good ayi is a big challenge. It is even harder for expats. We always say that finding a good ayi is like winning the lottery. The best ones don't need agencies to find jobs. Their previous employers happily recommend them to friends and they are booked up fast.

The association and the app will serve as a much-needed bridge for employers and employees. The association claims to have information of more than 30,000 household workers from 460 registered agencies in the city.

The association's website states that 100 percent of ayi are registered with their real names and correct information, and it is reported that the association has been working with police to verify ayi's identities. The association also works with the labor administration to verify their occupational certificates. They cooperate with the health bureau to verify their physical checkup results.

These are necessary safeguards that would allow authorities and employers to know where to trace a possible suspect should something unexpected happen. They also serve as a warning to anyone who attempts to commit a crime. You watch yourself if you know you are being watched.

What's more, the association works with the insurances database to make sure that all of the registered ayi's insurance policies are still valid.

Insurance coverage is very important. Employers should be aware that if you hire an ayi and she is injured while working for you, you are held responsible. Much trouble can be avoided if she has insurance. A mere 30 yuan ($4.88) per year can cover a compensation of as high as 100,000 yuan depending on the injury.

So for the expats in the city who need an ayi, whether long term or short term, for babysitting, cooking, housekeeping or caring for elderly family members, go to the licensed and registered agencies or websites to protect your interests. I am also excited about the launch of the app because I, too, am in need of a good ayi.

The author is the managing editor of Global Times Metro Shanghai.