News / Vancouver

Craigslist ad for ‘personal servant’ a sign of growing inequality says UBC professor

People who posted Craigslist ad titled ‘Personal assistant for professional working couple’ mocked as being ‘rich entitled slobs with no life skills’

This Craigslist ad, posted in October 2016, has since been taken down but the ad describes a job that is essentially that of a 'personal servant' says one UBC professor.

Screengrab/Craigslist

This Craigslist ad, posted in October 2016, has since been taken down but the ad describes a job that is essentially that of a 'personal servant' says one UBC professor.

Full ad posted at bottom of story

A Vancouver Craigslist ad for a personal assistant has advocates and at least one professor shaking their heads about what is being asked for in the listing.

The person who posted the ad describes him or herself as part of a professional working couple living in Gastown’s Woodward’s building and asks for things like washing vegetables, keeping household products stocked, and packing lunches.

It’s essentially an ad for a personal servant, said one UBC professor, who added she was not surprised to see it given the country’s growing income inequality.

“They’re not calling it a personal servant but that is what they’re asking for,” said Sylvia Fuller, who studies employment and inequality.

“Its not surprising that you start to see more of this kind of arrangement because there are people who can afford it and there are folks who don’t have any other options.”

The Craigslist ad was posted for at least eight days before it was flagged and taken down last week. Metro has not been able to contact the person who posted the ad.

The Woodward’s building in Gastown, Vancouver has become a symbol of gentrification ever since it was the site of a 2002 protest and squat for more social housing in the Downtown Eastside.

David P. Ball/Metro

The Woodward’s building in Gastown, Vancouver has become a symbol of gentrification ever since it was the site of a 2002 protest and squat for more social housing in the Downtown Eastside.

People who are new to the labour market, like recent graduates and immigrants are often the most vulnerable when it comes to precarious employment, said Fuller.

The ad language, including its claim that the job is an internship, indicates the couple is looking for a millennial to fill this job, she said. The problem is, there is nothing in the job description that indicates it would forward someone’s career, she said.

“You’re not really developing any particular skills in that job.”

The ad even states, “[i]f you're the type of person who likes super "creative" work, where you have a lot of variety in your day ... and deal with a lot of different types of complex challenges... then this probably is NOT right for you.”

People have historically avoided this kind of work – personal servitude – if they have other options and for good reason, she said.

“If you’re hidden in somebody’s household, in this kind of job, typically you’re not being paid particularly well but it is also easily subject to abuse and exploitation.”

The ad also states the couple is looking for someone who, “doesn't take things personally, have feelings hurt easily or get offended at all.”

But the ad has appeared to offend a lot of people online already.

Downtown Eastside advocate Wendy Pedersen calls the people behind the ad “rich entitled slobs with no life skills” and Vancouver writer Lindsay Brown describes them as “people who have PAs as well as a housekeeper and demand that you don’t get ruffled if they have a tantrum.”

Fuller is not surprised the ad has ruffled feathers but is also not surprised the ad was placed in Vancouver.

“Vancouver is one of the most unequal cities in Canada when we look at incomes – its not surprising that we would see examples of this here.”

Families who had the highest incomes (top 20 per cent) increased their average wealth by 80 per cent between 1999 and 2012 while families at the bottom of the income spectrum (bottom 20 per cent) only increased their average wealth by 38 per cent, according to Statistics Canada.

Meanwhile, precarious employment – temporary, freelance, and on-call work – has increased by 60 per cent since 1989. About one in every five workers in the Toronto area work in precarious employment, according to the most recent report by United Way and McMaster University.

Full ad below

Screengrab/Craigslist

Screengrab/Craigslist

Screengrab/Craigslist

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