New ILO Convention: Free the maids

WITHOUT them many an economy would grind to a halt: the global army of between 50m and 100m domestic workers, most of them women and children. Yet tucked away in kitchens and nurseries, mainly in the Middle East and Asia, their wages often go unpaid, they are rarely granted any time off, and many face physical and sexual abuse. – The Economist, 23 June 2011

When they say maids, I can’t help it, I think of the thousands of Filipinos out there who are in this job.  There’s tendency to think that Filipino girls and women work as maids because of the need for money back home and I believe they comprise the majority but there are a number who did so because of some problems.  Like there’s this woman, a professional, who went temporarily abroad as a maid just to escape, mentally, emotionally and physically, a continuing domestic problem with her husband.  She said that if she is to go on a vacation, she would only end up thinking about the problem because she would be having lots of free time whereas if she works and as a maid she’d be dead tired even before the day ends there would be no time to think deeply.  Luckily for her she had good employers.  But what about the rest, those who usually figure out in the news as gory statistics?

The Economist continues:  The convention now has to be ratified by governments, which is likely to take several years. Some countries may never follow through, despite having voted for the treaty. In the meantime, abuses continue, although things have recently improved. In the Middle East several countries are drafting legislation about domestic workers and are looking to the convention for guidance. Others now have hotlines for domestic workers to report abuse.

In 1996, during the 10th Congress, Senator Tatad filed the Kasambahay Bill to raise standards for domestic workers, but four years hence it has not merited urgent attention of Philippine law makers.  But before it is enacted into law, another review ought to be made as the provisions therein are pithy and would not significantly raise standard of living of domestic workers, particularly:

  • Helpers are to be paid at least P2,500 if they are within Metro Manila, at least P2,000 if they are in chartered cities and first class municipalities, and at least P1,500 for those working in third class municipalities.

Should not DOLE or the Wage Board do the pay standardization instead of it done through a Bill that would probably take several years more before it is passed into law and could be applied?  Why should working standards for domestic workers treated separately from those of the rest of the labor force?

I hope I got it correct that the Bill is proposing at least P2,500 a month for domestic workers in Metro Manila and lesser amounts in other “lesser areas”, because P2,500 for 25 working days (or a month) is P100, or in poverty speak is a few pesos above the 2 USD a day!  They’re still poor with that proposed amount. And why create a policy/bill that aims at the baseline instead of really raising local standards to compete with global standards?  Are the lawmakers, who are usually the employers of more than three domestic workers, thinking of their own selves again?

In my other blog (discontinued), I wrote an article about domestic workers and their plight.  There, I wrote that if I were a domestic worker I would want my pay to be not lower than P30,000 a month, with rest days and government benefits paid in proportion by my employer.  Why?  Because I, a non-maid, know how exhausting and thankless work it is to clean the house, do the dishes, do the laundry, iron clothes, cook (which I can’t), run errands, add in, for many, baby sit, all these from dawn to near midnight.  God!  And P2,500 for an all-around maid?  So I said to myself if I can’t pay my maid P30,000 a month benefits not included, I won’t hire one.  Heck I could do the laundry and could probably learn to cook and all.  It shouldn’t be a surprise then when local maids would rather find similar work abroad because there, depending on the status of their employer, they could receive as high as P50,000.

We speak of brain drain and recruiting these brains back home.  What about muscle power and physical intelligence who make up majority of immigrants and whose situations are relatively worse, shouldn’t we call them back home too? And what should we lure them back with?

Free the maids.  It could mean freeing them as from bondage and inhumane work conditions, but it could also mean freeing them from our long held prejudices so they could receive from us the befitting standards and dignity of a worker.

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