‘Domestic workers must organize to secure kasambahay law, ILO C189’ – APL

DOMESTIC workers from the Philippines working abroad and even inside the country have double cause to celebrate when two landmark laws benefiting them were recently enacted, but to ensure their full implementation and to raise further the rights of DWs, they must eventually organize into unions or associations.

This was underscored by the Alliance of Progressive Labor as it welcomed the already delayed signing by President Aquino of the “Kasambahay” Bill into Republic Act No. 10361 or An Act Instituting Policies for the Protection and Welfare of Domestic Workers on Jan. 18 – it was actually announced on Jan. 23, which formalized the consolidated bill of the Senate and House
of Representatives that was passed in November.

Prior and related to this, the International Labor Organization approved the ILO Convention No. 189 (C189) or the Decent Work for Domestic Workers and its supplementary Recommendation 201 (R201) during its 100th International Conference last June 16 in Geneva, Switzerland.

The Philippines became the second country in the world – after Uruguay in June – to ratify last year the C189 when the Senate approved it on Aug. 6 following its signing by Aquino on May 18.

The APL and its allied organizations – including its affiliate, the Progressive Labor Union of Domestic Workers in Hong Kong (PLU) – actively participated in the national and international campaigns to legislate the Kasambahay bills as well as to ratify the ILO “Domwork” Convention.

‘Overworked, underpaid, abused’

RA 10361 intends to provide basic labor rights and legal protection to almost 2 million domestic workers in the country or those working for private households as all-around househelp, nurse- maid or yaya, cook, gardener, laundryperson, etc. Government data show that their ranks have grown from 1.2 million in 2001 to about 1.9 million in 2010.

According to the ILO report “Domestic workers across the world” released early this month, most of the domestic workers in the country are “overworked and underpaid.” In 2010, they work an average of 52 hours a week, the 7th longest among 39 countries surveyed by the ILO, and “higher than the globally accepted statutory limits on working time of 40 and 48 hours a week.”

DWs in the Philippines are mostly poorly paid with a national average equal to merely “43.8 percent of the average incomes of the country’s total paid workers,” placing the country to No. 11 among 22 surveyed countries with the widest wage gap for domestic workers.

Aside from hard work, meager wages and virtually zero benefits, many local domestic workers usually suffer from many forms of maltreatment, including verbal abuse, physical violence and sexual assaults.

The eventual need to unionize

Despite the penalties prescribed by RA 10361, it will likely be ignored or willfully violated by many households with DWs, the APL admitted. It added that this resistance is expected thus an all-out information drive is needed to convince the people that domestic workers also deserve basic rights and social benefits.

“Another more reliable guarantee that the law will be complied with is for the domestic workers to form themselves into a cohesive organization – whether an association or a union – although it will be a very difficult undertaking; however, in the long run, it can become an effective instrument to advocate for greater rights and benefits for the DWs,” the APL said.

The domestic workers’ organizations, the APL stressed, should of course be integrated into the mainstream labor or trade union movement.

Some of the specific provisions of RA 10361 are:

  • Domestic workers should be covered by a clear and detailed employment contract.
  • Mandated minimum wage for DWs in Metro Manila at P2,500; in chartered cities and first-class municipalities at P2,000; and other municipalities at P1,500. Wages should be paid in cash, not in any other form, once a month.
  • DWs are entitled to a 13th month pay.
  • DWs, after a month of service, shall be covered by the Social Security System (SSS), Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) and Home Development Mutual Fund or Pag-IBIG.
  • DWs should have at least 8 hours of rest each day and a day off every week. After a year, he/she is allowed to have a five-day incentive leave with pay.
  • Employing DWs below 15 years old is prohibited.
  • Violators will face a fine of at least P10,000 aside from civil and criminal lawsuits.

Domestic workers: precarious jobs abroad

Meanwhile, the APL hailed the ILO Convention 189 as it establishes a new global standard for protecting migrant domestic workers.

Identified as one of C189’s landmark components is its new definition of “domestic work” that expands its scope, recognizes that it is not an “unproductive” or “invisible” work, covers all types of household service workers, and provides special measures to protect them.

The C189 likewise permits DWs “reasonable work hours, weekly rest of at least 24 consecutive hours, clear information on terms and conditions of employment, as well as respect for fundamental principles, including freedom of association, and the right to collective bargaining.”

The APL praised C189’s citing of the “freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining” as very significant as it implicitly upholds the right also of the domestic workers – wherever they are in the world – to form workers’ organizations, including trade unions.

‘Feminization of domestic work’

The ILO revealed that of the estimated 53 million domestic workers in the world, around 83 percent are women, including young girls. This could be higher since the total number of DWs could reach to as high as 100 million since a large chunk of them remain unregistered.

Incidentally, a huge number of Filipino migrants are DWs in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, and in the Middle East, especially in Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Kuwait, Lebanon, and Jordan. Tragic and revolting stories of DWs, mostly women, who suffered from various forms of abuses and
exploitation by unscrupulous foreign employers have regularly emerged from these places.

Records of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) show that of the 96,583 deployed abroad in 2010 under the category of “Domestic Helpers and Related Household Workers,” only 1,703 were men. Most probably, the females again comprise the overwhelming majority of the almost 2 million household workers inside the country as reported by the
Bureau of Labor and Employment Statistics (BLES) in the same period.

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) put the total number of Filipino domestic workers at 1.93 million to 2.5 million; hence more than 500,000 of them are working abroad.

Domestic workers or household service workers – particularly those who work abroad – are related also to the broader ranks of migrant workers, which is noteworthy because Filipinos are among the world’s largest migrant groups based on ethnicity.

‘Filipino diaspora’

Most recent data reveal that comprising this “Filipino diaspora” are about 9.5 million migrants (and their families), divided into 4.4 million (47 percent) permanent migrants or the immigrants who became naturalized citizens in their adopted countries; 4.3 million (45 percent) overseas
Filipino workers or the famous OFWs; and over 700,000 (8 percent) “illegal” migrants or undocumented Filipinos abroad.

Related to this, for several consecutive years already, the Philippines has consistently ranked a close fourth among the largest recipients of remittances after China, India and Mexico. In 2012 alone, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas expected that remittances through banks or formal channels only to grow by at least 5 percent to a record of more than $21 billion.

These lifesaving funds in various foreign currencies sent back home by overseas Filipinos have helped prop up the Philippine economy for several decades now. They have in fact cushioned the devastating effects of the series of global and regional economic and financial crises that regularly exploded since the 1990s.

Remittance-driven economy

However, the APL stated that nations should give priority to developing their industries and agriculture, especially in the case of the Philippines. It added that remittances or labor export should be a sort of a “support sector” only to the overall national economy, not its primary component or where the economic life virtually depends on it.

This economic dysfunction actually reflects the dysfunctional socioeconomic strategies of most of the governments in remittance-driven countries; thus, this economic thrust suggests that decent and sustainable jobs are inadequate in labor-sending nations, the APL said.

The APL further explained that migration should be a “personal option” of individual workers, not a “structural pressure’ for them to work abroad because they and their families will starve to death or live miserably if they remain at home – or working with whatever “job” being offered at home.

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