Protecting Domestic Workers

Article excerpt

MANILA, Philippines - Among the female workers who comprise 60% of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), the majority are household service workers or domestic workers. Unfortunately, however, domestic work is hardly recognized even in the laws and standards of international labor organizations. As anthropologist Dr. Nanette Dungo wrote in a recent paper for a workshop on "Promoting the Welfare of Overseas Domestic and Service Workers" conducted by the Center for Research and Communication, it is only very recently with the globalizing currents which brought on the international trends of the feminization of labor that ILO began considering a rethinking about the condition of female domestic workers.

Whether in the Philippines or abroad, these domestic workers are highly vulnerable to abuses of labor standards and other human rights violations.

Despite this new recognition of domestic/household work locally, there are still no standards that will provide the basis for determining the specific tasks, duties, and work conditions of household service workers. There is ordinarily no formal contract signed between the employer and employee that defines the terms of work, including the wage, much less the benefits such as health and pension with which other contracted workers are provided. The employer's family may be large or small, which can have implications on the volume of work to be done by the household service employee.

There are some countries that provide domestic workers some benefits such as tax exemptions, health benefits, transportation, cultural information, and hotline services. Among them are Bahrain, Indonesia, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand. These benefits, however, do not include protection guaranteed to other workers such as working hours, day-offs, access to labor courts, and other measures that ensure protection and security. There is increasing pressure for all countries to develop an annex to their existing labor laws that would cover household service workers. As of 2008 only Hongkong, Italy, South Africa and the Philippines have laws specific to domestic workers.

For this reason, it is important for the Philippine government, through several of its agencies such as the Department of Foreign Affairs and Department of Labor, to actively work for multilateral or bilateral agreements among receiving and sending countries for the protection of domestic helpers. In a research efforts to give guidelines to policy makers and legislators about the rationalization of the deployment of domestic workers to the Middle East and East Asia, Dr. Trinidad Osteria of De La Salle University identified some key areas where multilateral or bilateral agreements should be pursued for the welfare of Filipino domestic helpers abroad:

1. Simplification of immigration procedures and regulations pertaining to the hiring and deployment of migrant workers. …