There are 2.5 million domestic workers in the country, 1 million of which are children. While most employers are fair, respectful and caring, we cannot deny that there are also abusive employers. Domestic helpers rank among the most neglected workers in the informal economy.
The Philippines is the first country in the world to observe a special day for domestic workers after President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued Proclamation 1051 last year which set aside April 30th as a special day to honor and give recognition to millions of kasambahay. But this is not enough. The welfare and working conditions of domestic workers must be improved by enacting a law which will address these concerns
Since 1996, various groups have lobbied for the passage of Batas Kasambahay. The clamor has not subsided but Congress has always failed to approve this bill. Among the supporters of the bill are the International Labour Organization, big business groups, DOLE, UNICEF, religious networks, trade unions and various NGOs. Will the 14th Congress finally find political will and sincerity to prioritize Batas Kasambahay? I hope so.
Employers need not worry that the bill, once enacted into law, will disrupt domestic relations. It does not prescribe unreasonable rights and demands. For example, the bill will increase the minimum wage of domestic workers. Right now, the Labor Code stipulates it is legal if a Metro Manila employer will pay only P800 to a kasambahay. The bill will raise the minimum wage to P2,000-3,000. It’s just the average monthly salary in Metro Manila these days.
The bill will also redefine ‘household helper’ to prevent abuse of women. According to the Labor Code, a household service is defined as “services usually necessary or desirable for the maintenance and enjoyment of employers and includes the ministering to the personal comfort and convenience of the members of the employer’s household.” This definition encourages some employers to treat domestic workers as personal servants with unlimited chores or worse, as sexual slaves. The new meaning will use the phrase “normal household chores.”
Batas Kasambahay will guarantee the rights of domestic workers to social protection benefits such as SSS and Philhealth, adoption of formal contract between employer-employee, impose a mandatory registration of domestic workers and introduce minimum hours of rest instead of maximum hours of work. Employers are also asked to grant 13th month pay, vacation leave and privacy to domestic workers. The bill affirms the universal rights of kasambahays such as right against involuntary servitude, debt bondage and trafficking, right to just and humane treatment, right to access educational opportunities, right to self-organization and right to redress grievance.
Batas Kasambahay will increase penalties contained in the Labor Code to deter domestic abuse, especially the maltreatment of children. The campaign against women and child trafficking will be boosted with the passage of this bill. Child labor will be prohibited.
It is noteworthy to mention that many local government units have already passed ordinances detailing programs for the protection of domestic workers. These include Quezon City, Bacolod, Makati and Iloilo. The proposed legislative measure will harmonize local laws related to household service. It will complement international agreements on protection of children, women and informal workers.
Why can’t Congress recognize the urgency and nobility of legislating minimum protection for domestic workers? We always decry the abuses committed against Filipina domestic helpers working in other countries. But we seem indifferent to the plight of local household workers. We refuse to condemn the exploitation of women, including children.
Domestic workers have valuable contributions to the economy. They make it possible for employers to work elsewhere and earn money while they manage household chores and make sure that the children are loved and pampered. The least we can do is to make sure their rights are recognized by the State.