National policy on domestic helpers needed
Call them by any name: houshold managers, chamber maids, super maids, DH, Global DH, etc. They belong to the most vulnerable sectors of society. Our country is both scorned and envied for having so much of them, working in our households and beyond our shores. But are we doing right by this vital sector?
I ask this not only because a 17-year old Filipino maid was gang-raped recently in Kuwait. I ask this not for the fact that more than 200 more of her peers are now seeking shelter with the OWWA Welfare Center in the same country after running away from abusive employers. I ask this because we need to be clear on what really is our national policy for domestic helpers?
For example, what is the government-recommended wage levels for domestic helpers? Filipino women who migrate from the provinces in search for jobs in Metro Manila often end up as household workers. They deserve to receive such guidance from government on what their rights and benefits must be. I heard that the Labor Code still maintains an P800 a month salary grade for domestic helpers. This has to be reviewed. It is also important to come up with a help desk to receive complaints from abused household helpers.
Overseas, it gets trickier. The allowable minimum wage rate for Filipino domestic helpers as prescribed by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration for foreign job contracts must not go below US$200. Real wages as actually received by most Filipino helpers range from $180 to $150, particularly in Gulf states such as Kuwait, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. The Department of Labor and Employment has issued an order raising this salary grade to as much as US$400, which means removing us from the list of labor-sending countries that have a competitive advantage insofar as foreign domestic helpers are concerned.
Now, I see this as a good thing. However, will we be able to withstand the diplomatic and political entanglements that come with such a policy? How will this affect, for example, our relations with Gulf States whom we have been assiduously courting for a non-observer status in the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC)? Politically, we can expect – as we now do hear – a roar of displeasure from organized recruitment associations and their counterparts abroad – who are not without connections with the host governments concerned.
Leaving the country as unskilled workers is an escape hatch for many impoverished women around the country. But their desperation is fodder for the beasts – those who operate fake passport syndicates, white slavery rings, human trafficking networks and even the lowly illegal recruiter – they who have no remorse no matter how many of these women get raped. Government must provide clear alternatives for the employment of unskilled workers. I would prefer a national employment program directed at out-of-school youth, unskilled workers, and ex-OFWs rather than a politically-driven Super Regions.
To lessen the pressure on the executive branch from external (read: foreign) entities, I recommend that the legislature take the lead in formulating a national policy on Filipino domestic helpers, both here and overseas.
Here is one particular sector that we as Filipinos can all be clear about – and then support. And guess what? We don’t even need a Con-Ass or PI to deal with it.