Flak jacketsBy Juan Mercado
Cebu Daily News
Lilibeth Masamloc is all of 22. She started working as a maid at 13. At the International Labor Organization meeting in Geneva, she prodded 183 member countries: Adopt a convention that’d curb serf-like treatment of 53 million domestic workers worldwide.
“In many countries, domestic work is the only way children can earn enough to feed themselves,” said this president of Samahan at Ugnayan ng mga Manggagawang sa Pilipinas. “We are children. But we’re also workers. Protect us like other workers.”
“Child domestic workers care for babies, work throughout the night, carry loads almost as heavy as themselves… Cost of (tuition) and lack of support from employers mean many of us drop out of school… Take action that will change the lives of millions,” Ms Masamloc urged delegates.
Thursday, the 100th ILO annual conference did just that.
By a 396 to 16 vote (63 abstentions), it approved the “Domestic Workers Convention.” A committee led by Labor Undersecretary Hans Leo Cacdac painstakingly crafted this document over the last two years.
By an equally lopsided vote of 434 to 8 (42 abstentions), the UN agency also stapled on a “Recommendation.” This annex provides for nitty-gritty implementation after the Convention kicks in through ratification by two countries.
Uruguay and the Philippines spearheaded the convention approval. Both are expected to be the first to ratify it. Will we deliver?
Depends. Can the House of Representatives labor and employment committee shake off it’s stupor long enough to report out the Batas Kasambahay bill? This would provide household workers with heftier benefits.
“There must be a law here that will implement the convention’s requirements,” Acting Labor Secretary Danilo Cruz told Inquirer. Otherwise, “we cannot ratify it.”
“History is being made,” beamed Juan Somavia, ILO director general. “ILO’s standards system is moving into the informal economy. That is a first.” “Overwhelming,” gushed Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz who led the Philippine delegation. “We didn’t expect our proposal would be accepted by almost all countries.”
The bureaucratic tag for these migrants is “household service workers.” About 710,000. “HSWs” are scattered in countries from Bahrain to Italy. Almost a third have gone to college but couldn’t get jobs here.
Like Indonesia, Burma and other labor-source countries, the Philippines is dogged by illegal recruitment, sex abuse, trafficking and ham-handed exploitation. ILO estimates that nine out of 10 domestic workers in Asia lack labor and social protection.
“Malaysians were left holding the mop,” Pittsburg Gazette reported after Indonesia, in June 2009, barred maids from Malaysia because of widespread maltreatment. Jakarta lifted the ban this month.
The minimum pay policy that Manila unilaterally imposed in 2006 was “not working,” Scalabrini Migration Center and Philippine Institute of Development Studies earlier found.
A survey of 224 departing domestic workers revealed 47 percent expected to earn less than $400. Nearly half (49 percent) expected employers to slash undefined amounts from their salary. One out of every two ignored reports of harsh working conditions. Most barreled towards a Middle East now convulsed by the “Arab Spring.”
Manila-Riyadh talks on benefits for domestic workers broke down last month. Saudis agreed to furnish details of prospective employers. But they balked at proposed pay hikes.
“Their work is often hidden and unregistered,” experts say. “In developing countries, they make up at least 4 to 12 percent of wage employment,” ILO estimates. “Around 83 per cent of these workers are women or girls. Many are migrant workers.”
The mint-new draft convention seeks to right “immemorial wrongs.” If implemented, the document would vest workers who care for families and households with new safeguards. These entitle them to the same rights of other workers.
Examples: Reasonable hours of work, weekly rest of 24 consecutive hours, a cap on in-kind payment, transparent terms of employment plus respect for basic human rights, like freedom of association and collective bargaining, etc.
In addition, the new instruments stitch in special provisions. These would protect those who, “because of their young age, nationality or live-in status, may be exposed to additional risks relative to their peers.”
The 2011 draft rekindled in us images from a Southern China Airlines flight 309 in 1997. We were headed for Beijing, connecting there for the Mongolian capital of Ulaan Bataar.
Eight rows away in the Boeing 757 cabin, we saw this lady. “Filipina” was stamped all over her. From the simple T-shirt-cum-jeans combination, braids, accents—and the warm affectionate way the two Hong Kong kids snuggled up to her.
We chatted with Manuela Rodriguez from Pangasinan while queuing up for Beijing’s immigration counter. She worked as nanny and her employer—she pointed to the bejewelled matron striding ahead—was visiting relatives. While fishing for her Philippine passport, she adds: The children and I will visit the Great Wall and Forbidden City.
An airport staffer urges passengers to move on. Our petite Filipina flashes a quick smile as she herds the two restless children into the queues. Good luck kid, we said then.
Good luck kid, we bid Lilibeth Masamloc and all who’d get the “Domestic Workers Convention” off the blocks. There’s three quarter of a million homesick HSWs, who sweep, cook, iron and play nanny for a pittance. They need that flak jacket.
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