ILO landmark treaty protects domestic workers; Philippines to ratify accord

by Kobakila News

CANADA — The 38-year old Filipino maid in East Vancouver had a cup of milk thrown in her face when she didn’t properly warm it for one of the children.

Unable to bear anymore the slave like conditions she was forced to endure since being brought into Canada from Hong Kong in 2008, she called police after that incident.

When police came, they discovered the woman was working in the country illegally, her visitor’s visa expired and that her employer had confiscated her passport after her arrival in Canada.


Another Filipino maid in the Lower Mainland was forced to try the dog food she prepared before giving it to the animal.  Others sleep on couches and in storage spaces while another Filipina was recently allegedly raped by her employer.

These are just some of the cases that Jane Ordinario of Migrante BC hears when Filipino maids come to seek her help. “They are overworked, paid minimum wage and not able to take a day off to see fellow Filipinos,” said Ordinario, whose organizations help exploited foreign workers get some measure of justice.

As the group helps the 38-year-old Filipina who made local headlines after her employers Oi Ling Nicole Huen and Franco Yiu Kwan Orr were charged by police, migrant worker advocates said Filipino domestic employees both in the Philippines and abroad frequently complain of mistreatment ranging from delayed or unpaid salaries, excessive hours of work, to poor working conditions, sexual harassment and rape.

But they are hoping that this will be a thing of the past with the advent of a landmark International Labor Organization treaty giving protection to domestic workers.

The Geneva-based ILO passed the treaty giving protection to an estimated 52.6 million domestic workers across the world last week, with the Philippines and Uruguay having already said they would ratify the accord.

The new convention would ensure domestic workers enjoyed conditions “not less favorable” than other workers, and require governments to ensure they understood their rights, preferably through written contracts.

The document also offers domestic workers a full rest day every week, and prevents them being compelled to remain with an employer’s household during their annual leave or rest days.

About 71,000 Filipinos left to work as domestic helpers abroad in 2009, according to the latest labour department data available, including more than 69,000 women.

More than 100,000 of them work at any one time in the prosperous Chinese territory of Hong Kong alone.

Garry Martinez, head of Manila-based labour rights monitor Migrante (Migrant), said the group expects the treaty to have a huge impact on Filipina maids’ working conditions.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino’s government had been one of the main proponents, foreign department spokesman Ed Malaya said.

“Domestic household workers are among those most vulnerable to abuse and other risks. Having minimum standards to be observed by governments will undoubtedly lead to improvements in their situation,” Malaya said.

Migrante Canada, an advocacy group sent its delegation to Geneva to push the “Decent work for domestic workers” agenda
More than half of the 10 million Filipinos abroad work as domestic workers. They work in the Asia-Pacific region, Europe, Middle East and North America. Most of them have left their home country due to massive unemployment and poverty to look for job and a better life abroad that their government cannot provide to them, Migrante Canada said.

In Canada, more than 80 percent of caregivers come from the Philippines. They come here through the Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP), a federal program that recruits caregivers from other countries. While the immigration contract has only required them to care for the elderly, children and the disabled, they work as domestic workers as they stay in their employers’ homes.

Like all domestic workers, caregivers are also in a very vulnerable and precarious situation. They work for long hours and suffer abuse in various ways. Physical and psychological violence is very common. Economic exploitation is manifested in the form of poverty wages, work overloads, insufficient holidays, if any, and inappropriate living conditions in the employer’s home. At the same time, employment agencies exploit the vulnerability of caregivers by charging excessive fees; others promise them work that never exists.

Hailing the ILO treaty, Migrante Canada said “it is time to end the modern-day slavery endured by domestic workers in Canada and around the world.” (The Filipino Post)

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