Many households in the Philippines employ domestic helpers. They are almost indispensable in a middle class family home. But despite their many contributions to society, Filipinos do not appreciate them fully.
It is important for Philippine society as a whole that the domestic workers are treated well. It goes beyond decency, you could see their situation as a labor issue, a developmental issue, and a human rights issue.
Domestic workers are one big unorganized mass of workers. Many people don’t think of their domestics as workers. But in reality, these domestics work hard, and they are not fully protected by Philippine law. They often work without contracts, do not have social security or medical coverage, and work long hours. Many of them are under the age of 18, and thus are children.
While we may say that there are many workers also with similar conditions, the difference with domestics is that they are not really recognized as workers in our labor laws, and there are no rules or guidelines on how they should be treated or compensated. The continued nonrecognition of domestic work as regular work undermines the whole structure of labor laws, since there is one big and glaring exception or loophole in it.
Domestic workers make up a significant part of the country’s economy. Their main contribution is that they free middle class women to be able to pursue their careers. Then, they send back part of their pay to their families, helping to sustain their families in the rural areas. And domestic work can be seen as a possible transition to urban life, and more formal work.
If the “under-18” domestic workers are given a chance to pursue their studies, then they would have a chance to get good paying jobs after their stint as domestic workers. While studying reduces the number of hours that they can do domestic work; this is more than compensated by the higher quality of the worker.
There are also human rights issues concerning domestic workers. The first of this would be the right of domestic workers to “rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay” (International Declaration of Human Rights, IDHR, No. 24). There are as yet no clear guidelines on the work/rest hours for domestics.
And then, there are the rights of the child (International Convention on the Rights of the Child) with states that the child has the right to education. Child domestics (i.e. younger than 18 years old) have the right to go to school, and that their domestic work scheduled should be adjusted accordingly,without being too long as a result (since they also have the right to rest and leisure).
As a first step towards addressing the labor, development and human rights issues connected with domestic workers, there needs to be a clear legal framework for this. What is need is a Magna Carta for Domestic Workers, or “Batas Kasambahay” (Kasambahay = domestic workers). Bills to this effect have been filed in the House of Representatives and the Senate, but it has mainly been successful in the House. There is a nationwide signature campaign urging Congress (especially the Senate) to pass the Batas Kasambahay.
Since 2005, a number of local governments have passed local ordinances to register and provide programs for domestic workers. These need to happen throughout the country.
See also: Domestic Workers in the Philippines