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(en) Filipino immigrant workers

From Platformist Anarchism <platform@geocities.com>
Date Fri, 27 Feb 1998 14:02:03 +0000
Organization http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/6170

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

ICFTU OnLine...
Migrant workers: Marissa's choice
By Didier BLAIN

Brussels, February 27 (ICFTU OnLine): "I 
didn't have any other choice" admits Marissa, 
smiling broadly.  This bubbly, 37-year-old 
Filipino woman is about to put herself 
through what she knows will be an ordeal for 
the second time in her life.  In a few days 
she will take the plane to Ryad where she 
will work as a maid for one of the rich Saudi 
families.  She will leave behind her in 
Laguna, near Manilla, her husband and three 
children, for 2 years, for just US$ 200 per 
month. Her husband is a mechanic, but he 
doesn't earn enough for the family to live 
on.  She looked for work in the region when 
she came back from Bahrain where she worked 
for a year and a half.  In vain.  The few job 
offers that came her way did not pay enough 
to support the family.  She is therefore 
going abroad again, to what she knows will be 
difficult conditions: 7 days a week, from 
5.30 in the morning to 10.00 at night, 
confined to the house she will keep 
spotlessly clean, with just the children and 
"Madam", as she already calls her, for 
company.  Her employer will take away her 
passport on arrival.  She won't have any 
contact with men, as the Muslim religion 
forbids it.  With luck she may be able to go 
out two or three times a month, always 
chaperoned by "Madam" who will demand that 
she doesn't look too pretty and will probably 
find it hard to understand, as they did in 
Bahrain, why a domestic servant should want 
to take a shower every day.  "We are very 
clean in the Philippines" she will explain to 
her employer.

More than 50 per cent of the 6.5 million 
Filipino immigrants will experience the same 
conditions. Over 3 million Filipino women 
work as maids, mainly in the Gulf States and 
nearby Asian countries such as Taiwan, Hong 
Kong or Japan.  Many NGOs, such as the 
Kaibigan which has close relations with the 
Trades Union Congress of the Philippines 
(TUCP), are following the example of 
Indonesia and Malaysia, in calling for an end 
to the sending of women migrant workers to 
the Gulf States, because of the difficult 
conditions that await them.  The Sarah 
Balabagan affair is still fresh in people's 
memories, the case in which the young 
Filipino girl was sentenced to death by a 
Saudi court for killing the employer who 
raped her.  It took an international campaign 
to secure her release.  Fortunately, not 
every situation is quite so desperate.  But 
at the Kaibigan's offices in Quezon City, 
shelves are piled high with the case files of 
the abuses of Filipino women working abroad.  
Examples abound, from ill-treatment (in the 
Middle East and Japan), to unpaid wages (a 
speciality in Hong Kong) and superstitions 
(beauty spots in Taiwan).  "Hence the 
importance of our intervention" explains Gina 
Espinoza, one of the Kaibigan's officials.  
"We receive all those applying to work abroad 
to inform them of their rights, the different 
types of employment contract, the 
possibilities they have of sending money to 
their families.  We also give them a list of 
addresses, in the event of a dispute, where 
they can find refuge or assistance, such as 
embassies or local trade unions.  At the end 
of the seminar we given them a certificate 
which they have to have for their departure." 
For its part, the government is not 
completely insensitive to the working 
conditions imposed on its citizens in certain 
countries.   It took part in the development 
of this type of seminar and made the 
departure certificate obligatory.  But its 
primary concern is still the income that its 
expatriate workers send home.  According to 
the Kaibigan's estimates, it amounts to at 
least 5 billion dollars a year. The economic 
argument takes precedence over any social 
problems, particularly at this time of 
financial crisis which is seriously 
threatening the development of Asia's "little 
dragons".  In the Philippines everyone knows 
that one of the main reasons the crisis (1) 
has not hit the country as hard as countries 
such as Korea or Thailand is the wages sent 
home from abroad every month.

The crisis has had a two-sided effect.  On 
the one hand, it is sending even more workers 
abroad as life in the Philippines becomes 
more expensive.  On the other, workers from 
the hardest hit countries are returning home.  
The Manila daily The Inquirer announced at 
the beginning of the year the imminent return 
of 3,000 Filipinos employed in the building 
industry in Seoul, in South Korea.  It also 
reported on the threat to the jobs of the 
500,000 Filipino workers in the service 
sectors of the countries worst affected by 
the crisis.  With more people applying to go 
abroad, and fewer jobs available, logically 
market forces would drive wages down.  But is 
it possible to offer less than US$ 200 per 
month for what is more than a full-time job?  
It is too soon to say. The Gulf States have 
in recent months started to "nationalise" 
their jobs, in other words to replace foreign 
workers with local workers.  But this does 
not seem to have affected the Filipino 
expatriates.  The jobs they do, often low-
grade or middle-ranking jobs, are of no 
interest to the young graduates from the big 
US or European colleges.  At least, that is 
the view of Dick, a 47-year-old Filipino who 
for the past 15 years has lived in various 
countries in the Gulf, and is now working in 
a government institution as a librarian.  "We 
have more to fear from Indian workers, who 
are prepared to work for half the price, than 
from those seeking executive posts."

The question of competition does not arise 
for Marissa.  She is the cheapest on the 
market and Filipino maids have a reputation 
for being docile and hard working.  "I was 
born to help my family" she says, by way of 
explaining her decision to subject herself to 
virtual slavery for two years.

(1)  The peso has lost 30 per cent of its 
value in relation to the dollar since the 
beginning of the crisis, which is far less 
than the fall in the value of the Thai baht 
for example.

For details contact ICFTU Press at ++ 32 2 
224 02 12 (Brussels). For
more information, visit our website at: 

       International Anarchist Web Page

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