The Visayan Forum Foundation Inc. (VFI) said it is ironic of the government to peddle Filipino maids in the Middle East and Asia, while neglecting their plight in the Philippines.
“How can you negotiate for maids abroad while here you don’t even mind them?” VFI director Cecilia Flores-Oebanda told GMANews.TV at the 2nd National Domestic Workers Summit in Quezon City.
Oebando said it’s time for members of Congress to wake up and act fast because they have been sleeping on the proposed Magna Carta for Domestic Workers.
The two day summit, which began on Thursday, aims to draft a recommendation from various labor sectors for the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) convention on domestic workers in 2010.
Should the Philippine government ratify the convention, it would be compelled to pass a law protecting domestic workers.
Oebanda said that the government ensures that Filipino household service workers overseas enjoy a minimum salary of $400 (roughly P20,000), while local maids could only ask for P800 per month under the existing Labor Code.
This is being enforced by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), which requires foreign employers and placement agencies to ensure that domestic helpers hired in the country are given the minimum pay and ample protection.
She added that while Filipino household service workers could maintain their edge abroad by acquiring new skills under the government’s “supermaids” program, local maids hand down their jobs to their children.
“It creates an inescapable cycle. It’s as if they have no choice,” Oebanda said.
With a magna carta, Oebanda said domestic work would be reclassified and maids could demand for better working conditions, pay scale and skills training.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has already vouched her support in the passage of the bill and the adoption of the ILO convention.
“You should continue to push your campaign,” Arroyo said in a written message for the summit, “You have my full support.”
Such legislation would provide Cherry (not her real name), a 15-year-old maid from Bacolod city, a better future.
“Gusto kong maging lawyer. Pero ngayon kahit ano na lang basta maitaguyod ang buhay namin (I want to be a lawyer. But I’d take on any job for now just to keep our family afloat),” she said.
According to Cherry, her younger brother Jeje (13) and elder sister Faye (17) are also working for some families in their province, Negros Occidental. With their education shouldered by their employers, Jeje receives P10 a day while Cherry and Faye get P200 a week.
Lilibeth Masamloc, president of the Samahan at Ugnayan ng Manggagawang Pantahanan sa Pilipinas, said maids should not be chained to a lifetime of domestic servitude.
As a former maid herself, Masamloc urged legislators to act quickly on the bill.
“Hindi habang buhay kami ay kasambahay. May pangarap din kami sa buhay (We are not maids forever. We do have dreams too in life),” Masamloc said.
There are 550,000 Filipinos working in the country as domestic helpers, based on the 2006 Labor Force Survey. Of this number, some 350,000 are aged 15 – 24, while 120,000 (or 1 out of 5) are children domestic helpers.