Domestic helpers are among the biggest labor exports of the Philippines to the rest of the world. Driven by low wages and lack of opportunities back home and relatively high demand for domestic workers abroad, Filipinos — male or female, skilled or not — take this kind of job.
For instance, poverty often deprives Filipinos to finish college. With a lack of educational qualification, let alone relevant work experience, a poor Filipina is left with few choices, if any. Since domestic helper jobs do not require much technical expertise (like using Microsoft Word or programming skills), as long as she knows basic home chores, and have a sound mind and health, she is almost a shoo-in for a DH work abroad.
On the other hand, a Filipina education graduate, even after passing the licensure exams, are unable to land a dream teaching job in the Philippines. Although not a preferred career, a job as a nanny abroad ultimately becomes a choice for many OFWs. That’s because
it satisfies a few enticing conditions: as a nation of good English speakers, her skills teaching Chinese, Emirate, or Arabian kids gives her an edge. Also, her take-home pay as a nanny is better than when she pursues her teaching job in the Philippines amid high withholding tax rates
and government contributions.
As rosy as the benefits of this job may appear, the Filipina nanny, domestic helper, au pair, or whatever they may be called, is subjected to many problems.
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High placement fees.
Even if the POEA has a ruling that no placement fees should be paid, domestic helper applicants are often asked a fortune, sometimes up to ten times their monthly salary abroad, to get their papers processed and prepare for deployment. So an aspiring OFW has to sell or pawn properties or borrow money from loan sharks, which could lead to a string of problems. Note that the problem begins even before the domestic helper leaves the Philippines.
Illegal recruiters earn a lot of money by preying on innocent, uneducated applicants. Using their persuasive powers, these fraudsters promise greener pastures at countries probably unheard of by these OFW aspirants. Ang dating DH kailangan sa Cyprus, sa Czech Republic at as Russia. Fed up of living in poverty in the Philippines and eager to start work abroad, applicants are easy to commit to the demands of illegal recruiters.
On the flip side, some can’t seem to figure out what’s a valid job posting and what’s not. Some Filipino applicants for domestic worker jobs abroad easily fall prey to Facebook job postings with signs of illegal recruitment written all over it.
Offloading at the airport.
As a result of item (2), a misinformed, less-educated applicant obtains the so-called documents from a fly-by-night recruiter and assumes ready for deployment overseas. She is not aware that she only has a tourist visa, falsified documents, and made-up references from medical examinations to a PDOS certificate.
The immigration officer, while suffering from bad publicity about offloading passengers from their supposed flights, has a job to prevent human trafficking and offloads the poor Pinay to spare her from more trouble abroad. And this leaves the domestic helper applicant back to square one, minus the cost and effort she already expended.
Upon reaching her job assignment, the weak domestic helper is asked to sign another contract, with fewer wages and diminished benefits (days off, working hours, and the ability to communicate with family back home). Left with no choice, she signs the contract hesitantly and realizes the nightmare she is about to embark on this new phase of her life as a domestic worker abroad.
With the “new contract” enforced, employers are no longer obliged to provide her with basic needs such as her room, food, or even toilet accessories (soap, toothpaste, etc.). She now has to spend on these necessities out of her pocket. During bitter winter months, she shivers in the cold while in hot summer seasons, she cannot sleep in her inhospitable space at home.
Many employers treat domestic helpers as slaves more than humans. For various petty reasons (from failure to inform their helpers to wive’s jealousy), they physically beat them, humiliate them in front of other people, sexually harass them, deprive them of food, and contact the outside world.
Lack of support from consulates and embassies.
With a lack of ability to contact a friend or the consulate to air their grievances, domestic helpers are unable to get help from labor officers. That is why we sometimes run away from their abusive employers, risking lives and limbs in the process. Worse, some consulates and embassies are understaffed or unwilling to help them resolve their cases and fight for fair labor conditions.
Subject to racism and stereotyping.
Sometimes domestic helpers are assumed to be easy to get because of how other Filipinas are behaving. Decency in dress codes seems to be a common complaint from the modest ones, especially in countries where this is an issue. As a result of this wrong assumption, other domestic helpers become victims of crimes like rape, just because they are Filipinos.
Families who are expecting too much from their overworked, underpaid domestic helper relatives abroad fail to understand the ongoing predicaments elsewhere. They expect remittances to be on time; they expect the same amount every month and do not bother to ask how relatives are doing. Worse, family members accuse domestic helpers of immorality, even if that is far from the mind of the hardworking Filipina DH.
Befriending scammers and sweet-talkers.
As if the problem is with abusive employers and families, domestic helpers occasionally come across people who befriend them only because they want something in return. Mare ang ganda naman ng hikaw mo, pautang naman. Emergency lang, pahiram ng pera kasi 50-50 ang mister ko. Kindness is a gift, but also a curse if this leads you to get conned by these so-called friends.
Although domestic helpers work hard, they are still at the mercy of their employers, who may terminate them for some random reasons. Failure to cook food correctly forgot to fulfill a task, especially at a time when attending to multiple requests at home. In most cases, terminations are reasonable, but since not all employers have the same wavelength of thinking, household workers are often on guard and prepare for such eventuality.
It’s not easy to be a domestic helper. Long working hours, low wages, and risk of an abusive boss strained relationship back home, and a hazardous workplace sometimes prompts some to ask if going abroad was worth the risk — while already losing time with family. It’s a sad realization, but domestic helpers often find fulfillment that despite the odds stacked against them, such noble work is something to be proud of.