Why we should stop sending maids abroad – Atty JBJ

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Source: DIRECT FROM THE LABOR FRONT By Atty Josephus Jimenez

Now that the Philippine economy is at its best, after so many decades of economic stagnation, this is the best time to stop being the number one supplier of maids in the whole world. And if the government is really sincere in its declared policy to protect our women workers, there should be a total ban against deployment of domestic helpers to any country. This ban should be unconditional, immediate and total. The DOLE, in coordination, with other government agencies, and with the private sector, must be able to create enough jobs and enterprises that can replace overseas employment, as the preferred source of income for unskilled female workers. Maid deployment is a business that makes multi-millionaires of recruiters while our poor women are being jailed, raped or killed abroad. We have to stop this modern slave trade immediately.

Whether the government calls them maids, domestic helpers or household service workers, as they are euphemistically referred to by POEA, OWWA and the labor attaches and welfare officers in more than 20 countries all over the world, these maids are doing very difficult, dangerous and dirty jobs, which even the ILO declares as hazardous to female workers. I have seen with my own eyes the many pains, sufferings  and injustices. A maid by any name is an endangered specie, liable to be exploited, harassed, raped and even killed. The government cannot protect them enough, since no embassy personnel can just barge into private domiciles of foreign employers abroad.

There is an urgent need to issue this total ban because there is a continuing need to protect both the maids and their families. Thousands of maids have already died, became terminally ill or seriously injured and maimed. Many have been falsely accused of crimes like thefts, assaults, murders or use and possession of drugs. Most of them are working from 15 to 20 hours a day. They have no adequate rest and are often denied of safe and decent quarters. They are not given overtime pay, nor healthy and sufficient food, much less medical care and hospitalization. Most of their passports are confiscated and they are not allowed to go out. They are virtual prisoners. The recruiters do not protect them.  They make a lot of money out of them.

The government should disclose to the public that, as of today, there are hundreds, perhaps even thousands of Filipino domestic helpers and other migrant workers, who are in jails, immigration detention centers, not for an heinous crime, but for simple violations of contracts and breach of immigration rules. In many destination countries, any attempt on the part of a harassed maid to run away is deemed a breach of their two-year contract, which is categorized as a criminal offense in such jurisdictions. And so, a Filipino who is raped by her employer and runs away may be arrested as a criminal offender. The rape victim becomes the offender and thus can be summarily jailed. The Senate and the House should investigate this. And I am willing to testify.

Every embassy has a center where the run-aways are being kept. In Kuwait, a small room that could accommodate only 50 women at most, was the cramped quarters of 300 to 400 maids at any given time. Some of them would sleep at the staircase. During my time, I allowed them to sleep in the offices, which they have to vacate at day time. Every day, no less than 5 to 12 maids would knock at the door of the center. The labor attache has to feed them, give them clothing, medicine and take care of their legal problems, their psychological and psychiatric needs and work out a solution to their labor dispute with their employers.

Issuing a total ban will also be beneficial to the nation. That would mean wives going back to many philandering husbands, mothers coming home to take care of their young children. That would mean dysfunctional homes and families restored to their original joys and happiness. The family is the solid foundation of the nation. It is being destroyed by outward labor migration. A total ban is also practicable. It does not need a law. It is within the power of the Labor Secretary as ex-officio Chair of POEA.

If this government is serious in helping the kasambahays, then let it prove itself by issuing a total ban against sending maids abroad.  Let us stop supplying house slaves to other countries. Let us do it now.

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