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Minimum wage for maids on workers’ hands

QUEZON CITY—DOMESTIC workers may need to work harder to secure a US$400-minimum salary as a Filipino community leader in Kuala Lumpur cites the Philippine government’s impotence in enforcing such wage policy.

Make Kuala Lumpur a test case, says Pilar Sangaran, adviser of the Samahang Impok Bayan (SIB) in Malaysia, reacting to a clamor for government to review the Philippines’ household service workers (HSWs) reform package.

The suggestion to review the package comes from the Scalabrini Migration Center (SMC) and the government’s Philippine Institute of Development Studies (PIDS).

Both research institutes think the HSW reform package’s minimum pay policy “is not working” after five years since the Philippine government unilaterally imposed it on labor-hosting countries in 2006.

The SMC and PIDS found that 47 percent of 224 departing domestic workers the groups surveyed expected to earn less than US$400.

Nearly half of the respondents or 49 percent (109.76) said they even expect their employers to deduct something from their salary. In addition but without specifying the percentage, most were not aware of the provisions of the HSW reforms.

No amount of Philippine government pressure or diplomatic mumbo-jumbo will make foreign employers comply with the mandated minimum pay; that they will comply with the policy that Filipino domestic workers be given a starting salary of at least US$400, Sangaran said.

The leader of some 400 Filipino domestic workers said the responsibility is on the shoulder of the OFW.

Ample work experience and trust with private employers overseas will give Filipino domestic workers the chance to earn minimum salaries of US$400, she added.

Sangaran refers to her experience working in Kuala Lumpur for more than five years.

Filipino domestic workers there, she says, receive US$245.37, or about 750 Malaysian ringgits.

Sangaran said Filipino maids can earn as much as RM2,000 (US$654.31).

She claims some earn more if the Filipino maid performs extra work like driving their employer’s children to school.

“The employer’s trust unto the Filipina is deep already”.

But even if Malaysian employers do not follow the mandated minimum pay, “lower pay is better than nothing,” Sangaran told the OFW Journalism Consortium, in reference to the 80,000-plus domestic workers there.

Or else Malaysians will prefer other nationals and give them lower pay, like Indonesians who are given RM500 (US$163.58), which is lower than Malaysia’s minimum wage of RM800 (US$261.73).

 

Reform

DOMESTIC workers were the most deployed overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in 2009 with 71,557, according to government’s Philippine Overseas Employment Administration.

Majority (69,669) of these HSWs are women. The top ten destination countries of HSWs are Hong Kong, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Italy, Cyprus, Singapore, Oman and Bahrain.

They were re-named as HSWs in 2006 as ordered by then-President Gloria Arroyo. President Arroyo also ordered the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to also develop a reform package as a way to “professionalize” overseas domestic work.

Domestic workers hired must be at least 23 years old, get a minimum of US$400, and not pay any placement fee.

In return, the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) will train departing domestic workers and issue a training certificate called “National Certificate Level II” (NC2). As well, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) will subject the departing domestic workers to a language and culture orientation seminar.

According to SMC research director Maruja M. B. Asis, Filipino domestic workers receiving US$400 or more “have been working [abroad] for some time, usually with the same employer.”

Their survey revealed that some respondents said they chose domestic work because there’s no placement fee. About half of survey respondents said the contract had been explained to the departing Filipino domestic workers.

Sangaran thinks if Malaysians choose domestic workers from other nationalities, the question is the quality of work and English proficiency —in which the Filipinos have an edge on both compared to other nationalities from Asian labor-exporting countries.

But if the Filipina domestic worker cannot endure both the pay and the treatment of the Malaysian employer, Sangaran offers an alternative: “Go find another employer.”

But Asis said the Philippine government must tread lightly if it moves to “reform” the HSW reform package.

“Should the Philippines open up the market, do away with the US$400, and allow the foreign employer and the Filipino domestic worker to privately negotiate their salaries and allow for disclosure? Or, should the Philippines continue to press for the US$400 as a tool for the workers’ protection overseas?”

If the latter option is chosen, the Philippines must “be very careful” of the policy’s implementation because the situation might make Filipinos go overseas through irregular channels, Asis said.#

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