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Making Decent, Dignified Work for Domestic Workers a Reality

July 25, 2012

Sponsorship Speech
Making Decent, Dignified Work for Domestic Workers a Reality
Senate Session Hall
July 25, 2012

Mr President, Distinguished Colleagues:

On behalf of an estimated 3.4 million Filipinos domestic workers, working here and abroad, I have the honor to seek approval of Senate Resolution No. 816 under Committee Report No. 315, entitled: “Resolution Concurring in the Ratification of Convention 189, Convention Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers”, adopted by the International Labour Organization in June 2011, under the chairmanship of the Philippine Government.

Need for the Convention

ILO Convention 189 does not seek anything out of the ordinary from governments and those who employ domestic workers. It merely moves us to acknowledge that domestic workers, like us, have fundamental rights and that we need to respect these rights.
In plain language, ILO 189 is underscoring the fact that domestic workers, like other workers, must enjoy the same mantle of basic rights, such as reasonable hours of work, weekly rest, clear information on terms and conditions of employment, and freedom of association.

By ratifying ILO 189, our advocacy for the rights of our domestic workers abroad, is given unfettered meaning. This will also bring into our doorsteps the mandate to provide for our domestic workers what we ask other countries to provide for them when they work overseas.

We cannot demand what we do not provide; thus, I ask this chamber to join me in putting our country’s stamp of concurrence on ILO 189. It is only in doing so that we can genuinely say we care for more than 3 million Filipino domestic workers, many of whom serve as the sole breadwinners of families. Without adequate protection, we are consequently, condemning their families to an uncertain future.

Realities of Domestic Work

Allow me to share with you some of the realities that characterized the world of unprotected domestic workers. Domestic work is rendered at home, in very close and oftentimes alienated work environment, making the work relationship between the employer and the domestic worker very intimate on a daily basis.

Domestic workers are mostly women and minors. They account for the highest percentage of workers being deployed for work abroad, reaching more than 100,000 in 2010 alone.
In the local front, households that employ domestic workers are concentrated in the wealthiest 10-20 per cent of the national income distribution.[1] For these households, the pursuit of a career would not have been possible without the care and compassion extended by domestic workers. They toil day and night to care for our children, when their own are left to the benevolent care of their relatives.

Domestic workers are not nameless persons. They have families. They send siblings to school. They work, just like us, but unlike us, many of them are denied their rights and are stripped of their dignity as a human being.

Let me share with you a case that is mirrored many times over by the experiences of our domestic workers overseas. Let me call her by the name, Lourdes.

Lourdes is a college graduate. She signed up to work as a domestic worker in Jordan. She was just short of her 22nd birthday when she left her village home in northern Luzon in the summer of 2006. Like most migrant domestic workers heading for the Middle East, she packed a roll-on bag, stuffed with loose clothing. She brought along a mobile phone, borrowed from her Aunt, hoping that this would be her lifeline to her loved ones at home.
Her employer resented that she had brought a mobile phone with her. The employer must have thought that when she hired Lourdes, she had also bought her liberty. Like most foreign domestics, Lourdes was banned from having contact with the outside world.

One fateful day, Lourdes fell four storeys from the kitchen veranda, landing squarely on her back. As the young woman lay in a coma in a Jordanian hospital, her employer claimed it was a suicide attempt. Lourdes’ family claimed she was thrown off the balcony. The woman employer was arrested and charged with assault. Jennifer, now a quadriplegic, fought a losing battle.

Cases of modern-day slavery, hundreds of them untold, permeate the world of domestic helpers.

Child Domestic Workers

Child domestic workers also abound. Many of them are found in exploitative and slave-like conditions.

The Cebu DSWD revealed that 80% of the reported victims of rape, attempted rape, and other acts of sexual abuse involved child domestic workers.
Horrific stories of abused adult domestic workers also abound. The violations are usually in the form of long working hours with no rest periods; non-payment of wages or below poverty threshold wages; verbal abuse; physical abuse; sexual & psychological abuse; and lack of accommodation worthy of human dignity.

Domestic Workers as Part of Formal Economy

ILO Convention 189 effectively recognizes domestic workers as part of the formal economy, thus paving the way for their entitlement to minimum standards and protection.
Filipino migrant domestic workers are bound to benefit the most from the ratification of ILO 189. The Convention will ensure domestic workers that they are able to keep in their possession their travel and identity documents; encourage member-states to set standards for employment agencies. The Convention, as a work standards framework, provides an opportunity for the Philippines, as a sending country, to enter into bilateral, regional or multi-lateral agreements that prevent abuses and fraudulent practices.

The Kasambahay Bill

In 2010, the Senate passed on third reading Senate Bill 78, An Act Providing for Additional Benefits and Protection to the House Helpers, otherwise known as the Kasambahay bill, sponsored by our esteemed Senate President Pro Tempore, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada. The House of Representatives passed on Second Reading House Bill 6144 in May 2012.

It will not be long before new minimum labor standards for domestic workers become a reality in the Philippines.

Conclusion

Mr. President, recently, Uruguay ratified ILO 189. The Convention requires two of the ILO Member-States to ratify the instrument before it takes effect. Our concurrence with the Convention now will signal the start of a regime where more than 100 million domestic workers all over the world will no longer have to remain undervalued and unprotected.
Mr. President, distinguished colleagues, let us lead others in making decent, dignified work a reality for all domestic workers. I ask you to join me in concurring in the ratification of ILO Convention 189.

Thank you.
[1] Domestic Workers in the Philippines: Profile and Working Conditions, International Labour Office, Geneva, 2011