MANILA, Philippines – Migration analysts are recommending a different tack for negotiating better terms for Filipino domestic workers with host countries.
Since many destination countries cannot provide the US$400 minimum pay the Philippine government requires, Indonesian economist Guntur Sugiyarto suggested the Philippines may want to lobby for a country-specific minimum wage for domestic workers.
That kind of lobbying for Filipino domestic workers’ minimum wage, instead of compelling countries to give Filipino household service workers (HSWs) a minimum of US$400, may be “much more practicable,” Scalabrinian priest Graziano Battistella, CS said at a recent regional policy forum on migration management.
Looking at the minimum wages of some destination countries of Filipino domestic workers, the website www.wageindicastor.org shows that:
- Hong Kong gives HK$3,740 minimum (US$479.77);
- Kuwait gives Dinar40 (US$145.55);
- Greece gives €740 (US$1,046.49) while Spain gives €614.40 monthly (US$868.86) to be given in 14 months;
- Jordan gives 110 Dinars (US$164.61);
- Oman has no minimum wage for foreign workers; and
- The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Qatar have no minimum wage while Singapore and Italy have no laws or regulations on the minimum wage.
It is by determining the minimum wages of various countries that the Philippine government can negotiate for better terms, Battistella said.
But the Philippine government must make a decision “whether the minimum wage requirement is realistic or not,” Battistella’s Scalabrini Migration Center and the Philippine Institute of Development Studies wrote in a policy paper.
As many destination countries largely dishonor the Philippine government’s minimum pay for domestic workers, market forces also seem to shun the HSW reform package.
A year after the package was introduced in 2006, data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) show that domestic worker deployment dropped nearly twice —from 91,142 in 2006 to 47,877 in 2007.
But the figure rose to 50,081 in 2008, 71,557 in 2009, and 96,583 in 2010 (with 2010 figures surpassing the pre-reform package deployment level).
“The market has spoken and apparently the (HSW Reform Package) failed to achieve the undeclared objective of reducing the deployment of HSWs,” PIDS and SMC wrote.
Since the repatriation of domestic workers from Lebanon in 2006, the Philippine government formulated the HSW Reform package that gives would-be domestic workers pre-departure training and certification and language and culture training.
The said package also set the minimum age of Filipino domestic workers to be 23 years old; attendance to a comprehensive pre-departure education program (CPDEP); waiving of paying placement fees; and requiring employers to pay US$400 minimum.
The policy apparently affected Saudi Arabia, the fourth-leading destination of Filipino domestic workers, as the country recently banned the hiring of new Filipino domestic workers.
As well, PIDS’ and SMC’s policy paper showed only a few countries, such as Hong Kong-China, Taiwan, Italy and Israel, giving a minimum or more than US$400 to Filipino domestic workers.
There is no minimum wage in Singapore “so how can you compel Singaporean employers to give Filipino domestic workers US$400?” asked Dr. Chia Siiou Yue of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.
This is not to mention, Ms. Yue adds, that Singaporean employers spend for the food and accommodation expenses of the Filipino domestic worker.
A written reply from the POEA during the policy forum admitted that there are “indeed indicative cracks” in the five-year-long implementation of the reform package.
An example is alleged avoidance by employers and recruiters where Filipino domestic workers’ salaries are deducted in the host country as a means “to circumvent the no placement fee policy”.
“In some instances, the HSW is aware of this scheme but agrees to it if only to be given the chance to work overseas and earn a little bit more,” POEA’s reply wrote.
There is an ongoing review at POEA assessing the HSW reform package, while the agency remains convinced “the additional and stricter requirements have benefited the HSWs in general”.
Domestic workers have been the leading occupational group of deployed new-hire overseas workers for many years now, says POEA data. NSO’s annual Survey on Overseas Filipinos also shows that laborers and unskilled workers, the occupational grouping where domestic workers fall under, have been the leading overseas worker remitters.