MANILA, Philippines – Manang Lin was only 14 when she began working as a kasambahay (domestic worker); she has been with the same family ever since. She was never made to feel any different, always welcomed as a member of the family.
She began taking care of Angel when the little girl was just 5. Before that, Manang Lin’s wards had been Angel’s aunts and elder cousins — today, she is Angel’s guardian.
“Manang is fiercely protective of her wards. One time, she fought with a neighbor when she found out I was being bullied,” Angel smiled.
Angel’s family does not see Manang Lin as an employee but as a friend and confidant.
“Learn to say thank you. If there’s anyone at home that we shouldn’t take for granted, those are our domestic helpers. We entrust them with our homes, our lives, and our daily well-being, Angel continued.
But this kind of loving relationship is often more of an exception than a rule.
Many kasambahays live in vicious cycles of fear, uncertainty and despondence. Others are imprisoned in abusive households masquerading as normal homes.
25-year-old Ging, a single mother who left her 6-year-old in Antique to work as a yaya (nanny) in Pasig, soon found herself not only performing nanny duties but all the household chores as well. The family expected her to get up by 3 am to prepare their meals, after which she had to do endless chores throughout the day, often until very late in the evening.
“Life in the province is hard: there’s no work. I was just hanging around, so I was forced to go to Manila,” she said.
Her employer took a skeptical view of Ging’s physical complaints and possible needs for medical care.
“Sometimes I get sick, dizzy, and lose consciousness. My employer said it wasn’t necessary to go for a check-up because I just lacked rest. But I’m never allowed to do so.”
Dismayed at her meager salary, she added, “The salary is just not enough. There is very little you can buy with it before sending it off to the province. Often, my salary is delayed.”
Still, more than half of her salary goes to Antique to support her daughter’s education.
Perhaps most damaging to Ging — and society at large — are the years her daughter, already bereft of a father, had to spend apart from her mother. During her 2-year stay in Pasig, she could only spend 10 days with her daughter in Antique.
“I wasn’t allowed to go home for my first Christmas because my employer was going to Tagaytay. I cried then. I could only stay in touch with her by cell phone. I just really wanted to see my child.”
Not quite a sea-change
Ging eventually transferred to a Quezon City family, but things haven’t improved. In fact, they’ve become worse. Her new employer doesn’t feed her properly, often giving her nothing but spoiled rice and fish. When there is nothing left, she spends her own money to buy her daily meal of noodles.
“These days I get very dizzy sometimes; luckily, the maid in the neighboring house gives me bread. I never complain because I’m too embarrassed. And frightened, I suppose.”
To make matters worse, she says, her employer often yells and calls them names.
“If only they wouldn’t look at us as if we were animals but instead as brothers and sisters,” she added sadly.
Who are the ‘kasambahays’?
DOLE estimates there are over 2.9 million Filipino domestic helpers.
Women and children — two of society’s most vulnerable sectors — make up most of our domestic labor force. The 2010 Labor Force Survey reports that 84% of them are women. This constitutes around 38% of total female employment in the country. Many of these women are young: 34% of them are between 15 and 24 years old.
The Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) reports that child household workers are perhaps the second largest group of working children.
According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), the biggest concentration of domestic workers — 20% — is in the National Capital Region (NCR). Most of these women, who left families and friends back home, came to NCR with high hopes. But after the long journey, many hopes have been eclipsed by regret, and cries for justice, silenced.
Since most live with their employers, many have been subjected to a number of injustices – most of which remain invisible to the outside world. Helplessness can loom in such unsafe environments.
Areas of concern
PCW cites the following most common types of abuse household workers experience:
- Physical, psychological, and sexual abuse
- Exposure to harmful working conditions
- Low, unpaid, or delayed wages
- Vulnerability to trafficking and debt bondage
- Long working hours with no days off
- Performing multiple and all-around work
- Working in isolation and without support networks
- Lack of social security or health benefits
- Lack of opportunities for education and self-improvement
The Commission argues that these injustices continue because household work is regarded as a lowly pursuit.
On the average, kasambahays are expected to work 9 hours a day, but most households don’t establish a definite work schedule for their helpers. Some domestic workers are not even granted regular days off.
The 2010 Labor Force Survey suggests that “the risks in live-in arrangements are that the line between working time and rest period tends to be blurred, and flexible working time may be interpreted as availability of service as and when required by the family.”
Some employers claim that, since they provide food and lodging for their live-in kasambahays, a low salary should be enough. However, such arrangements are easily abused; some helpers get deceived or forced to accept whatever salary their employers offer.
A pioneering law long overdue
After 19 long years, the country has finally established a law that guarantees the protection, security and well-being of household service workers (HSWs).
Batas Kasambahay (RA 10361 or the Domestic Worker’s Act) was signed by President Aquino in January 2013. Finally, the ceremonial signing of its Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) was held at the Department of Education this June. The law’s IRR came to fruition through the collective efforts of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).
“After years of legislative struggle, we mark a milestone in recognizing the special needs of our HSWs for safe and healthful working conditions. With the signing of the Batas Kasambahay’s IRR, we can better provide them with decent employment and social protections, just as we strengthen social dialogue among all stakeholders,” DOLE Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said.
The law fulfills the country’s obligation to enact national legislation in compliance with Convention 189 of the International Labor Organization (ILO), which requires countries to offer protections for domestic workers.
As the second country (after Uruguay) to ratify the Convention last year, the Philippines became a pioneer in social protection for domestic workers. Only 5 other countries have ratified the Convention so far — Mauritius, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Bolivia and Italy.
Under the law, domestic work is no longer a part of the informal sector: this affords workers with the same kinds of protections as those working in the formal sector. It covers all household help, including yayas, cooks, gardeners, laundry workers, and anyone who performs domestic work in a household on an occupational basis. But family drivers, service providers, and children under foster management don’t fall under this category.
The law sets the minimum monthly wage of domestic workers:
- NCR: P2,500
- Cities and 1st class municipalities: P2,000
- Other municipalities: P1,500
After one month of service, a kasambahay should be covered by the Social Security System (SSS), Employees Compensation Commission (ECC), Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), and Pag-IBIG.
Under existing SSS guidelines, employers must register their househelpers and remit their monthly contribution, which is 10.4% of their gross income, to SSS. Kasambahays earning less than P5,000/month are exempted from paying social security premiums. This means the employer must shoulder the full cost. Kasambahays earning more than P5,000/month must pay the 3.33% of the monthly premium, while the employer pays the 7.07%.
For Pag-IBIG, if the kasambahay’s monthly salary is P1,000-P1,500, the monthly contribution paid by the kasambahay is 1% of total income, while the employer pays 2%. If the earnings are higher than P1,500, both employer and kasambahay pay 2%. For earnings of P5,000 or more, the employer and kasambahay must pay P100 each. However, if the kasambahay avails of loan privileges, the required payment for additional or upgraded contributions shall be shouldered solely by the kasambahay.
For PhilHealth, if the kasambahay’s salary is below P7,000, the monthly contribution is P85 for both the employer and the kasambahay. If the salary is over P7,000, the contribution is P100 each.
Other benefits include: daily and weekly rest periods, service incentive leave, and mandatory 13th month pay.
The law further strengthens the protection of domestic workers’ rights:
- Right to privacy
- Board, lodging, and medical attendance (in a live-in arrangement)
- Access to outside communication
- Access to education and training (e.g., coordination with TESDA)
- Right to form, join, or assist labor organizations
- Right to practice their own religious beliefs and cultural practices
The law also protects the welfare of working children. It is unlawful to employ children under 15 years of age. For kasambahays who are over 15 but are under 18, the following conditions apply:
- Work shall not exceed 8 hours/day or 40 hours/week
- Work between 10pm-6am is not allowed
- They should not be exposed to any form of hazardous work
Withholding of wages and debt bondage are strictly prohibited. Any violation of Kasambahay Law provisions will be punishable with a fine of P10,000 to P40,000. Kasambahays can complain before any DOLE regional or field office. The aggrieved party may also file civil or criminal action accordingly.
Ging plans to continue working as a kasambahay in Metro Manila.
“As long as I can, I will continue to work so I can send my daughter to school.”
Unaware of the newly-implemented Kasambahay Law, she was elated to hear the news. “I hope the law is actualized. It’s a good law: we really need those benefits.”
The law has been passed, the IRR signed; but is cultural change really imminent? As the country becomes more prosperous, kasambahays will be in greater demand more than ever before — while traditional values of taking the poor’s rights for granted may finally begin to fade. Real development can only happen if more Filipino families begin inculcating respect for others — mutual and unbiased — as a foundational value in their homes.
“It’s up to you if have compassion for us”, she added quietly, wearily rising to her feet, the moment of respite abruptly ended — her evening chores already waiting. – Rappler.com
Assistant Secretary Lila Ramos Shahani is Head of Communications of the Human Development and Poverty Reduction Cabinet Cluster, which covers 26 government agencies dealing with poverty and development. She would like to thank Ms. Fritzie Rodriquez, Communications Officer III, for her substantial assistance with this piece.