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Of the estimated 8 million migrant Filipino workers, our domestic helpers are the most vulnerable to abuse. They are made to work from dawn to dusk but are poorly paid. They are insulted, maltreated and, often, sexually abused.
To enhance their dignity and raise their living standards, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, under the direction of Labor Secretary Arturo Brion, has adopted a package of reforms in their overseas employment. These are:
Effective next year, no Filipino maid will be deployed abroad unless her potential employer agrees to pay $400 as the entry-level monthly salary. The previously authorized salary, which was fixed at $200 two decades ago by the Department of Labor and Employment, is considered too now.
No placement fees
Household workers will now be exempted from paying placement fees. The foreign placement agency and its local counterpart Ã¢â‚¬Å“may agree on a compensation scheme for services rendered,Ã¢â‚¬Â but the amount should not be shouldered by the household worker.
The minimum age requirement for domestic helpers has been raised from 21 to 25 Ã¢â‚¬Å“to improve their preparedness and maturity in light of reports of the unabated abuses and maltreatment against them at the worksite.Ã¢â‚¬Â Previously, domestic helpers, as young as 18, were allowed to leave for overseas employment but this practice was stopped to reduce the temptation of employers with a penchant for young girls to sexually abuse them.
To increase their competitiveness, Filipino maids desiring to work abroad are now required to undergo training in housekeeping skills at the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda). They are also required to attend a country-specific language and culture orientation course conducted by the Overseas WorkersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ Welfare Administration (OWWA). No maid applicant will be processed by the POEA unless she can show a national certificate for household workers issued by Tesda and a certificate of competence or attendance in a language and culture course from OWWA.
To protect domestic helpers from illegal recruitment, foreign principals are required to undergo pre-qualification screening by the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO). They are asked to submit a written undertaking committing themselves to the fair and humane treatment of their maids.
We can see an immediate drop in the deployment rate of Filipino maids for the following reasons.
1. The increase in their salary scale to $400; 2. The prohibition to collect placement fees from them; 3. The requirement that they possess skills and language training certificates; 4. The new, older age requirement of 25 and above.
They deserve $400
There is no question that Filipino maids deserve the $400 minimum monthly pay. But the new salary rate is bound to be instantly rejected by employers.
At present, only a few foreign maids are enjoying a salary of $400 and above.
In Hong Kong, for instance, Filipino maids are paid HK$3,400 (US$425), the equivalent of P24,000. Actually, a Hong Kong employer pays a foreign maid almost P27,000 if we reckon the required government levy of HK$400 (about P2,500).
Filipino maids also enjoy good pay in Canada, Italy, the Americas, the United Kingdom and other European countries.
Singapore employers may balk at the new salary rate. They can afford to pay it were it not for the high government levy of $$345 (about P10,000) imposed on them by their government for hiring a foreign maid. The average maidÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s pay in Singapore is US$200. Add the levy and an employer effectively shells out the equivalent of P20,000.
Banning local recruiters from collecting placement fees is another major factor for a decrease in the deployment rate. Heretofore, the POEA had authorized the collection of placement fees from domestic helpers the equivalent of one month pay, plus P5,000. However, recruiters collect from P80,000 to P100,000 in violation of the authorized scale for deploying a maid in Hong Kong.
Deprived of these resources, local placement agencies may give up recruiting maids and focus their energies on deploying other categories of land-based workers from whom they collect exorbitant fees.
We see the deployment setbacks as temporary. If Hong Kong employers can afford to pay more than $400, we donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t see any reason why Singapore employers and others in affluent countries cannot.
There is a lot of merit to Secretary BrionÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s vision of cultivating a new breed of hardworking and dignified household workers. Let us elevate their social status by giving them decent wages and strengthening their faith and confidence in themselves through ampler government protection of their rights and well-being.
FROM THE SIDELINES By Alfredo G. Rosario Reforms in maidsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ overseas employment